You will no doubt have covered economies and diseconomies of scale in a some form in economics courses. A recent example of the latter is the car manufacturing industry in Australia with Mitsubishi, Ford, Holden, and Toyota all closing, or in the process of closing, manufacturing operations.
At the turn of the century Australia produced over 400,000 cars a year but this was soon halved to 200,000 by the end of 2013. The global market has become ever smaller and Australian car manufacturers have struggled especially as consumers now want less of the gas guzzling V8’s to middle of the range, fuel efficient cars. Holden and Ford haven’t focused on these models. Some of the key points responsible for their demise:
1. In order to achieve economies of scale car plants need to be producing at least 200,000 cars a year – most plants in Australia produce 100,000.
2. Car plant employees in Australia earn very high wages and only German workers earn more.
3. Manufacturing costs in Australia are 4 times greater than Asian manufacturers and 2 times that of European plants.
4. The resource boom has meant the AUS$ has appreciated which has made Australian exports more expensive. With a lot of spare capacity in the global market for cars prices are very competitive.
5. For a long time generous state handouts have kept the industry solvent. That has now dried up.
Below are graphs explaining economies and diseconomies of scale.
No doubt you have come across the movie documentary “Black Gold” which looks at the global coffee industry focusing on the plight of coffee farmers in Southern Ethiopia. The Indian onion market has similar characteristics and it is the farmers that lose out the most. Here are some of the issues that they have encountered:
* Higher rural wages have pushed up farmer’s costs
* Farms are small and therefore lack potential economies of scale
* The supply chain involves 5 middlemen who take their cut on the way through
* The onion is loaded, sorted or repacked at least 4 times
* Retail prices are double what farmers get
* Poor quality onions get dumped as there is no modern food-processing industry in India where they could be put to use.
* Little stock of onions is held in reserve so prices can vary greatly
Foreign food companies, including Walmart, Carrefour and Tesco, have been keen to make inroads into the Indian market. This would undoubtedly reduce the number of middlemen who take their cut on the way through and the development of modern storage facilites would assist in stabilising onion prices.
The Economist Free Exchange looked at how economies of scale for some firms have started to run out. When the average cost curve slopes downwards it means that average costs are decreasing as output increases. Whenever this happens the firm is experiencing economies of scale. If on the other hand the average costs are increasing as output increases the firm is experiencing diseconomies of scale – see graph below A-C economies of scale and C-D diseconomies of scale.
Container ship are a good example of economies of scale.
* 1950’s – they could carry 480 twnety-foot equivalent (TEU) containers
* 2006 – they could carrry 15,000 TEUs
* By 2013 – they will be able to carry 18,000 TEUs
As shipping costs per container keeps coming down container ships are expected to keep getting bigger.
Diseconomies – Skyscrapers and European Farmers
However, the idea of building something bigger will generate increasing economies of scale is not always the case. Think about a skyscraper, as you start to get above a certain height the cost per floor level starts to increase as there are structural aspects of the buidling that must be addressed and also with the core of the building getting larger as teh the building gets taller the amount of useable office space get reduced. Therefore if developers were looking at cost structures for buildings they would probably build mid-size buildings.
Many of the eastern bloc countries in the European Union are economic basket cases, still struggling to pick themselves up after the fall of communism in the early 1990’s, and this worries exporters who fear the big Western European economies maybe dragged down by their influence. The majority of their economies are weighed down by inefficient agricultural sectors inherited from the communist era and massive diseconomies of scale. If we look at Poland’s milk production, it is equivalent to New Zealand’s however this is spread over 500,000 farms and processed by 414 processing applications (US Department of Agriculture statistics). In New Zealand there are approximately 12,000 dairy farms.