Quality and flexibility performance trade-offs between lean and agile manufacturing firms in the automotive industry

Amir Qamar*, Mark Hall, Daniel Chicksand, Simon Collinson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)
1155 Downloads (Pure)


Firms operating in the automotive industry have traditionally been ascribed with efficiency and high levels of quality, as lean production has been extensively applied within this context, but given the recent dynamics in the automotive sector, there is also a need for high levels of flexibility, widening our attention to agile production. However, when lean and agile production have been explored simultaneously, the quality and flexibility trade-offs have been mixed and unclear. In order to dispel the lean-agile ambiguity, and given that both high levels of flexibility and quality are required within the automotive industry, the purpose of this study was to: a) Identify the relationship between flexibility and quality; and b) Explore the quality and flexibility differences between lean and agile production. Primary quantitative data was obtained via a survey and a total of 140 automotive manufacturing firms within the UK returned the survey. Logistic regressions were utilised as the main mode of analysis. Not only was an inverse relationship found between quality and flexibility, but our findings depict two distinctive Business Models (BMs) existing in the automotive industry, one lean and one agile. We advance the lean-agile debate by asserting that lean and agile firms acquire quality (efficiency) and flexibility strengths respectively, and not vice-versa. Given this, we theoretically side with the notion of performance ‘trade-offs’ and contend the idea that capabilities are cumulatively gained. By incorporating an argument built on the strategy literature on BMs and Dynamic Capabilities, we assert that lean and agile firms have evolved to underpin different kinds of competitive advantage within the same industry, but these advantages are placed at different tiers in the automotive supply chain.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)723-738
Number of pages16
JournalProduction Planning & Control: The Management of Operations
Issue number9
Early online date25 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, © 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Flexibility
  • Quality
  • Lean
  • Agile
  • Performance
  • Automotive
  • Trade-offs
  • Supply chain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science Applications
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management Science and Operations Research
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering


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