Sunday, January 31, 2010


The NUMMI automotive plant in Fremont, CA has gotten a lot of attention over the past 25 years. It is (was) where Toyota first planted its manufacturing presence in the United States back in 1984. It is important to mention that they reopened the plant after GM shut it down a year earlier. Toyota made an agreement with GM to share the plant with them. It was a landmark moment.

What GM got was hands on experience in Lean Manufacturing. Toyota gained experience in dealing with American workers (and culture).

The experiment is over. GM pulled out of the plant last year and Toyota is pulling out this March 31. The above video shows what happens as a result. While some part of me thinks it is unfair to post it another part of me thinks that it also illustrates to position the UAW has put themselves in now that there is no more money in the pot for them to take. The rank and file membership should be angry, but not just about what is happening at the moment but the path they have been taken on going back to the early 1970s.

So what did Toyota of America learn? Well, to put plants all over the South in Right to Work states. Looking at the big picture it appears bad. But I don't see it that way. The workers in Huntsville, Alabama; Georgetown, Kentucky; Princeton, Indiana; San Antonio, Texas; Buffalo, West Virginia are well paid and motivated. They helped catapult Toyota to the number one spot.

The winds of change have hit though. Toyota is facing an recall of epic proportions because of faulty equipment along with the target on their back because of being number one. It's a pile on now, folks.

What has GM learned? Not much of anything besides that Lean Manufacturing principles are just about impossible to learn and implement in a Union environment. There is good in that however. Lean Manufacturing is a great philosophy, but it isn't the be all end all. It has to work in conjunction with innovation and ingenuity. Lessons that GM is currently learning and ones that Toyota is relearning now.

I'm sure there will be a number of essays and books written after the dust settles at NUMMI that will explain all that went wrong and right there. But really the only thing that matters is that a plant running since 1962 will be shut down with 5400 employees out of work.

I'll leave it to writers much better then I to unravel what happened.


NOTE: If you follow the link on 'writers' you'll find something much more enlightning then the article written by someone that actually worked there (scroll down and find Nick).

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