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Non-Convex Costs and Capital Utilization: A Study of Production Scheduling at Automobile Assembly Plants

This paper studies how managers at automobile assembly plants organize production across time. Detailed data from eleven single-source automobile assembly plants display considerable cross-plant heterogeneity. At plants which make low- and medium-selling vehicles the capital stock often sits idle, production is more variable than sales, and week-long shutdowns are often used to vary output. In contrast, at plants which make high-selling vehicles, the capital stock rarely sits idle, production is about as variable as sales, and over time -- bit week-long shutdowns -- is most frequently used to vary output. To explain this difference in production scheduling, I formulate and solve a dynamic programming model of a plant manager. The solution to the dynamic program predicts that when sales are low, non-convexities at the plant level induce the manager to bunch production at points of low average cost; thus, the manager uses less than full capital utilization on average and makes production more volatile than sales. When sales are high, the plant operates in a convex region of the cost curve. Hence the manager employs high levels of capital utilization and makes production less volatile than sales.

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File URL: http://cowles.econ.yale.edu/P/cd/d11b/d1169.pdf
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Paper provided by Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University in its series Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers with number 1169.

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Length: 38 pages
Date of creation: Dec 1997
Date of revision:
Publication status: Published in Journal of Monetary Economics (June 2000), 45(3): 681-716
Handle: RePEc:cwl:cwldpp:1169
Contact details of provider: Postal: Yale University, Box 208281, New Haven, CT 06520-8281 USA
Phone: (203) 432-3702
Fax: (203) 432-6167
Web page: http://cowles.econ.yale.edu/

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Order Information: Postal: Cowles Foundation, Yale University, Box 208281, New Haven, CT 06520-8281 USA

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  1. Beaulieu, J. Joseph & Miron, Jeffrey A., 1991. "The seasonal cycle in U.S. manufacturing," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 37(2), pages 115-118, October.
  2. Anil K. Kashyap & David W. Wilcox, 1990. "Production and inventory control at the General Motors Corporation during the 1920s and 1930s," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 135, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  3. Ramey, Valerie A, 1991. "Nonconvex Costs and the Behavior of Inventories," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(2), pages 306-34, April.
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  6. Aizcorbe, Ana M, 1992. "Procyclical Labour Productivity, Increasing Returns to Labour and Labour Hoarding in Car Assembly Plant Employment," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 102(413), pages 860-73, July.
  7. Tauchen, George, 1986. "Finite state markov-chain approximations to univariate and vector autoregressions," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 20(2), pages 177-181.
  8. Alan S. Blinder & Louis J. Maccini, 1991. "Taking Stock: A Critical Assessment of Recent Research on Inventories," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 5(1), pages 73-96, Winter.
  9. Blanchard, Olivier J. & Melino, Angelo, 1986. "The cyclical behavior of prices and quantities: The case of the automobile market," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(3), pages 379-407, May.
  10. Russell Cooper & John Haltiwanger, 1990. "Macroeconomic Implications of Production Bunching: Factor Demand Linkages," Papers 0001, Boston University - Industry Studies Programme.
  11. Lucas, Robert E, Jr, 1970. "Capacity, Overtime, and Empirical Production Functions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 60(2), pages 23-27, May.
  12. Bresnahan, Timothy F., 1981. "Departures from marginal-cost pricing in the American automobile industry : Estimates for 1977-1978," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 201-227, November.
  13. Daniel S. Hamermesh, 1988. "Labor Demand and the Structure of Adjustment Costs," NBER Working Papers 2572, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Stephen G. Cecchetti & Anil K Kashyap & David W. Wilcox, 1995. "Do Firms Smooth the Seasonal in Production in a Boom? Theory and Evidence," NBER Working Papers 5011, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Olivier J. Blanchard, 1982. "The Production and Inventory Behavior of the American Automobile Industry," NBER Working Papers 0891, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Ana M. Aizcorbe & Sharon Kozicki, 1995. "The comovement of output and labor productivity in aggregate data for auto assembly plants," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 95-33, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  17. Berry, Steven & Levinsohn, James & Pakes, Ariel, 1995. "Automobile Prices in Market Equilibrium," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 63(4), pages 841-90, July.
  18. Joe Mattey & Steve Strongin, 1995. "Factor utilization and margins for adjusting output: evidence from manufacturing plants," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 95-12, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  19. Anderson, Patricia M & Meyer, Bruce D, 1993. "Unemployment Insurance in the United States: Layoff Incentives and Cross Subsidies," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 11(1), pages S70-95, January.
  20. Shapiro, Matthew D, 1993. "Cyclical Productivity and the Workweek of Capital," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(2), pages 229-33, May.
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