Well, I was given the chance to step behind the iron curtain, so to speak, and see first hand how one of Subaru’s top-performing North American plants functions. SIA (Subaru Indiana Automotive, Inc.) invited us behind the red tape to get a feel for their operations and catch a glimpse of the assembly line for the brand new 2015 Subaru Legacy.
Home of the Outback (as well as the Toyota Camry, at least until 2016), SIA’s monthly production capacity sits at 20,500 units; 13,000 of those being Subarus. In 2013, SIA produced 271,583 cars and they project that number to rise above 300k by 2015.
It’s a way of life
More than anything, what struck me about the SIA plant was how all encompassing it was. From childcare facilities to a wellness centre, scheduled workout regiments and routines for workers, as well as a nature reservation (where Blue Herons chill and live), the SIA grounds are vast, well kept and impressive. To work here is to live here, so to speak. With over 3,000 employees, SIA is rather like a village unto itself. Massive and sprawling, the interior of the plant is a maze of catwalks, specifically cordoned off bike paths (for nifty three-wheeled bikes with baskets in the back for transporting personal items and work-related things), message boards and designated break, eating and locker areas. And like a well-oiled and preserved machine, each of those areas was pristine and well kept.
It’s clear a certain amount of pride is taken in each vehicle that’s produced and assembled at SIA. Working conditions aren’t just clean, they are also tailored to ensure well-being at all times.
Unless performing a highly specialized task where certification or training is needed, workers are not allowed to work on any given job for more than two hours. Rotational tasks ensure muscle and mental fatigue is avoided at all costs.
Proudly displaying their “zero waste” status, SIA is one of the only North American production plants to claim such a title. Everything is recycled, reused and kept out of waste bins. Even the containers they ship parts to dealers in are reused, as are the Styrofoam shavings/pieces for packing. On average they are used 15 times, to and from the plant. That’s impressive.
In the middle of their oval test-track sits a small lake where Blue Herons nest and live. Coyotes are seen on the grounds often, and a host of other creatures happily set up camp in the sprawling, green grounds surrounding SIA.
Consider where it came from
For once, I was given the opportunity to see where the car I was about to drive really came from. Not from the minds of engineers or designers or from the drawing boards and pockets of executives, but from the hardworking hands of middle-Americans who live and breath the brand.
Subaru Indiana Automotive, Inc. is an institution, heavily engrained in the community of Lafayette, in preserving the environment, and in producing reliable well-built vehicles for the public who may never take a moment to consider the back story to the car they just got behind the wheel of.