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Non-convex costs and capital utilization: a study of production and inventories at automobile assembly plants

  • George J. Hall

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 weeklong 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 overtime - not weeklong 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 about as volatile than sales.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago in its series Working Paper Series, Macroeconomic Issues with number WP-96-25.

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Date of creation: 1996
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:fip:fedhma:wp-96-25
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  1. Eichenbaum, Martin, 1989. "Some Empirical Evidence on the Production Level and Production Cost Smoothing Models of Inventory Investment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(4), pages 853-64, September.
  2. Russell Cooper & John Haltiwanger, 1990. "Macroeconomic Implications of Production Bunching: Factor Demand Linkages," Papers 0001, Boston University - Industry Studies Programme.
  3. Olivier J. Blanchard, 1982. "The Production and Inventory Behavior of the American Automobile Industry," NBER Working Papers 0891, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Cooper, Russell & Haltiwanger, John, 1993. "The Aggregate Implications of Machine Replacement: Theory and Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(3), pages 360-82, June.
  5. Shapiro, Matthew D, 1993. "Cyclical Productivity and the Workweek of Capital," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(2), pages 229-33, May.
  6. Craig Burnside & Martin Eichenbaum & Sergio Rebelo, 1995. "Capital utilization and returns to scale," Working Paper Series, Macroeconomic Issues 95-5, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
  7. 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.
  8. Ray C. Fair, 1989. "The Production Smoothing Model Is Alive and Well," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 896, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  9. Burnside, Craig & Eichenbaum, Martin, 1996. "Factor-Hoarding and the Propagation of Business-Cycle Shocks," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(5), pages 1154-74, December.
  10. 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.
  11. Mark Bils & James Kahn, 1998. "What inventory behavior tells us about business cycles," Research Paper 9817, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
  12. 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.
  13. Bils, Mark & Cho, Jang-Ok, 1994. "Cyclical factor utilization," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 33(2), pages 319-354, April.
  14. Jess Benhabib & Roger E.A. Farmer, 1992. "Indeterminacy and Increasing Returns," UCLA Economics Working Papers 646, UCLA Department of Economics.
  15. Kahn, James A, 1987. "Inventories and the Volatility of Production," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(4), pages 667-79, September.
  16. 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.
  17. Kevin M. Murphy & Andrei Shleifer & Robert W. Vishny, 1989. "Building Blocks of Market Clearing Business Cycle Models," NBER Working Papers 3004, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Timothy F. Bresnahan & Valerie A. Ramey, 1992. "Output Fluctuations at the Plant Level," NBER Working Papers 4105, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  19. Susanto Basu & Miles S. Kimball, 1997. "Cyclical Productivity with Unobserved Input Variation," NBER Working Papers 5915, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  20. Eichenbaum, Martin S., 1984. "Rational expectations and the smoothing properties of inventories of finished goods," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 14(1), pages 71-96, July.
  21. Greenwood, Jeremy & Hercowitz, Zvi & Huffman, Gregory W, 1988. "Investment, Capacity Utilization, and the Real Business Cycle," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 78(3), pages 402-17, June.
  22. repec:tpr:qjecon:v:107:y:1992:i:2:p:481-510 is not listed on IDEAS
  23. 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.
  24. Alan S. Blinder, 1984. "Can The Production Smoothing Model of Inventory Behavior be Saved?," NBER Working Papers 1257, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  25. Berry, Steven & Levinsohn, James & Pakes, Ariel, 1995. "Automobile Prices in Market Equilibrium," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 63(4), pages 841-90, July.
  26. 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.).
  27. Kashyap, Anil K & Wilcox, David W, 1993. "Production and Inventory Control at the General Motors Corporation during the 1920's and 1930's," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(3), pages 383-401, June.
  28. Craig Burnside & Martin Eichenbaum & Sergio Rebelo, 1990. "Labor Hoarding and the Business Cycle," NBER Working Papers 3556, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  29. Lucas, Robert E, Jr, 1970. "Capacity, Overtime, and Empirical Production Functions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 60(2), pages 23-27, May.
  30. 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.
  31. 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.
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