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Flexible Production Lines

Robots at Nissan's Tochigi Plant, hard at work

Junko Kimura/Getty Images News/Getty Images

One advantage some automobile manufacturers have over their competition is the ability to switch a factory from the production of one model to another. Many auto factories are designed to produce variations on only one type of vehicle, so if that particular vehicle slips from public popularity, it leaves lots of people in the lurch.

This factor has been highlighted during the past several years as consumer fondness for gas-gorging giants has faltered and many people are opting for smaller, more fuel-efficient cars instead. Companies like Honda swapped some factories over from producing less-popular vehicles like trucks and SUVs to more preferred models. But companies such as Ford and General Motors didn't have it quite so easy -- many of their factories weren't flexible enough to make the tradeoff so they've been forced to shut down some assembly lines, while amping up production on others and still falling short on meeting demand.

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