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Lean Production and Manufacturing Performance Improvement in Japan, the UK and US 1994-2001


  • Nick Oliver
  • Rick Delbridge
  • Harry Barton


This paper reports the findings of a longitudinal study into manufacturing performance, lean production principles and buyer supplier relations in the Japanese, US and UK automotive industries. A total of 26 first tier component makers in the three countries were subject to detailed benchmarking exercises in 1994 and in 1999-2001. In each exercise data on labour productivity and quality performance were obtained, along with a series of quantitative measures indicating the extent to which each plant conformed to 'lean production' principles. The results show that the Japanese plants improved their labour productivity by around 20 per cent between 1994 and 2001, whilst productivity in the US plants remained flat over the same period. All plants improved their quality performance during the period, but the Japanese plants retained their lead with an average external defect rate of 81 parts per million (ppm), compared to 111 ppm for the US plants and 416 ppm in the case of the UK plants. Measures of leanness in the supply chain (inventory levels, delivery frequencies and so on) should be sensitive to any weakening of the inter-firm relationships that have historically characterized the Japanese auto industry. These measures showed no evidence of such weakening, although qualitative evidence suggested that a polarization of the Japanese auto industry may be occurring under the influence of foreign capital, with independent firms such as Toyota and Honda (and their suppliers) retaining a stronger 'Japanese' character than their counterparts who have entered into equity relationships with non-Japanese companies.

Suggested Citation

  • Nick Oliver & Rick Delbridge & Harry Barton, 2002. "Lean Production and Manufacturing Performance Improvement in Japan, the UK and US 1994-2001," Working Papers wp232, Centre for Business Research, University of Cambridge.
  • Handle: RePEc:cbr:cbrwps:wp232
    Note: PRO-1

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Alchian, Armen A & Demsetz, Harold, 1972. "Production , Information Costs, and Economic Organization," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 62(5), pages 777-795, December.
    2. Sandra E. Black & Lisa M. Lynch, 2001. "How To Compete: The Impact Of Workplace Practices And Information Technology On Productivity," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 83(3), pages 434-445, August.
    3. Charles W. Calomiris & Carlos D. Ramirez, 1996. "Financing the American Corporation: The Changing Menu of Financial Rela-tionships," NBER Historical Working Papers 0079, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Peter B. Doeringer & Christine Evans-Klock & David G. Terkla, 1998. "Hybrids or Hodgepodges? Workplace Practices of Japanese and Domestic Startups in the United States," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 51(2), pages 171-186, January.
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    More about this item


    Lean production; suppliers; auto industry; Japan;

    JEL classification:

    • L2 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior
    • L6 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Manufacturing
    • M1 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Business Administration

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    1. Industrial Sociology (FCT-UNL)


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