Business Economy

The Miracle of & the Betrayal of….NUMMI


After 25 years and 7.7 million cars,
Toyota Motors closed its manufacturing plant in Fremont on Thursday, tossing 4700 Californians out of work and into the worst job market since the great depression, imperiling, according to the NY Times approximately 20,000 collateral jobs.

The last car the factory made was a bright red Toyota Corolla. Dozens of workers walked the Corolla reverently through the assembly line.

The plant, originally opened in 1984 as a joint venture between Toyota and General Motors, was called the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc.—otherwise known as NUMMI.

NUMMI’s purpose was to allow Toyota to establish its first manufacturing beachhead in the U.S. and, in turn, the Japanese car maker taught the American unionized employees the secret to its amazing efficiency and what was, for many years, stellar quality conrol—all of which GM badly needed. But, in an astonishing and irrational display of pigheadedness, it took a stubborn GM management nearly 20 years to learn the lesson, too late to stave off its bankruptcy. Last year GM announced it was pulling out.

Although, at the end the GM cars represented only around 10 percent of those coming off the NUMMI line, Toyota said it was shutting down the plant.

Many tried to talk the Japanese company out of it. Why close the plant now? they argued. It had a stellar production record and, after all, this was a time when Toyota most needed to mend its PR profile—particularly in California, which according to the NY Times Bob Herbert, accounts for 18 percent of all Toyotas sold, worldwide.

NPR has this:

Toyota officials say NUMMI simply wasn’t economically viable, but many workers suspect that [the closing] may have something to do with their union. This was Toyota’s only unionized workforce.

“Toyota has never shut a plant down in 73 years, and we were the only plant to get a zero-defect audit, ever, in the Toyota history,” said Ann Ezra, who worked for NUMMI for more than two decades. “Only another Lexus plant has ever done it, and they’re going to shut us down? Why? So yeah, it’s because of the union

Whatever the real reason for the shutdown, NUMMI’s joint venture history is unique. This past week, This American Life, did a full show on NUMMI—the opportunity that the NUMMI plant once represented, and how General motors squandered it.

A car plant in Fremont California that might have saved the U.S. car industry. In 1984, General Motors and Toyota opened NUMMI as a joint venture. Toyota showed GM the secrets of its production system: how it made cars of much higher quality and much lower cost than GM achieved. Frank Langfitt explains why GM didn’t learn the lessons — until it was too late.

It is a remarkable victory story of one factory utterly transforming it’s way of working (and its attitude toward the work itself), and a tale of a stupendous opportunity lost by the whole of the American car industry, at a time when it needed it most.

And it is great hour of radio—brilliant, really—made all the more poignant now that the very last car has rolled off NUMMI’s line.


  • GM pulled out of the plant and Congress publicly investigated and condemned Toyota as part of an Obama plot to destroy competition of Government Motors. Those jobs weren’t important to Obama, who is trying to remake America into something it shouldn’t be. Well, maybe not all of that’s true, but the last part is.

    Toyota officials say NUMMI simply wasn’t economically viable, but many workers suspect that [the closing] may have something to do with their union.

    Duh. You don’t notice foreign car manufacturers closing plants in the right-to-work states in the South. In fact, they’ve opened a lot of new ones!

    Unions and socialist governments are job killers. And, you should note that Obama’s team, to pay back the unions for their supporting him, also closed the non-union Saturn plant in Tennessee.

    I feel sorry for those workers, though. They need to pick up and move to a state that hasn’t been corrupted by Democrats and unions and where businesses are locating rather than moving out because of high taxes and high costs.

  • Great catch, Celeste. I was listening to this piece on NPR about NUMMI a few days. A must listen to segment. It’s very revealing how GM missed so many opportunities to improve it’s industrial model. It also casts a steady and sober spotlight on several problems in the work culture of the UAW and GM management. Very compelling story telling by TAL.

    The notion that a single worker could actually stop the line in order to correct a problem or prevent costly repairs later on was nearly revolutionary.

    Thanks again for sharing this on your site.

  • If you listened to the TAL story, you’ll find plenty of apt criticism of the UAW.

  • Seriously, Woody, do listen to the TAL story. It’s just brilliant AND, as Rob G. says, the union doesn’t get let off the hook one tiny bit. Their complicity in the downfall of GM is made very clear. Between union and management, it was in many ways, an arrogant and suicidal dance.

    But that is no longer the case at the plant now. Anyway, listen. There’s no political agenda. Just great reporting and great storytelling. You won’t be sorry, I promise. This story will likely win awards.

    As for the red corolla, it’s headed for the Toyota museum.

  • Thanks to Obama, the auto unions kept their full pensions and lifetime benefits, so G.M. will be saddled in full with those legacy costs. No hopey/changey thing there. But, everyone else; owners, creditors, and taxpayers; got screwed by the government when it took over.

    In addition, Obama got rid of G.M.’s CEO and replaced him with a guy who had never been in the auto industry! Obama’s never even run a shoeshine company (except here), so what’s he know about business, and is what he’s doing not crazy?

    So, tell me again, has the “new owner” of G.M. learned anything?

    I’ll try to listen to the TAL segment later when the phone stops ringing, but I hate those whiny NPR voices.

  • “Thanks to Obama, the auto unions kept their full pensions and lifetime benefits”

    For somebody who gets very, very upset about the idea of taxes, something he talks about as “taking his money,” he is awfully quick to ask the government to take money out of the pockets of union members.

  • Nonsense Mavis, I was simply against the unions taking all the money from the shareholders, creditors, and taxpayers in a situation made worse with their demands and without them giving up a dime. It was disgraceful.

  • Woody, I just read the first sentence of your conspiracy theory about Obama plotting to destroy GM’s competition. I’m going to grab some pop corn and read the rest. I’m always up for a good conspiracy theory. Good stuff.

  • Stand by, RT. ACORN and the Trilateral Commission are in on it, too.

    And, you didn’t know that by just announcing the new mileage regulations, Obama put the competition at a disadvantage, since GM and Chrysler were told a year ago and have a big head start.

    Just think how different things would be if Ralph Nader had become President instead. G.M. would be the company being attacked.

  • Ooooh, the trilateral commission’s in on Obama’s plot to destroy GM’s competition, too? Awesome! Hey, Woody, how about adding some supernatural characters to this great Obama conspiracy theory. How about Obama sending flying dragons to breathe fire on GM’s competitors? Oh, I won’t tell you what to write. Your imagination is vivid enough. You don’t need my help. Can’t wait to read more!

  • Does it violate the rules to call Woody a racist piece of shit when he posts links to crap like he did at 10:54 ? Or does he get to flaunt his resentments and overt racism with no consequences ?

  • Reg, Woody’s a fiction writer, it’s what he does. Part of what he does is shock value. That’s where the racism comes in. What you should really get a kick out of is the current sci fi conspiracy yarn he’s weaving for us. OBama and the fire breathing dragons taking down GM’s competitors! And I was going to rent a movie tonight.

  • Nice touch. Add some of that shock value, too. You’re one of my favorite writers, Woody. Fiction’s a talent.

  • I have alo have a theory about Oliver North and his role in making sure poor minorities became addicted to Crack Cocaine.

  • Oh, I’ll see your Ollie North theory and raise you Gloria Romero running interference for the Mexican Mafia.

  • I didn’t know who Gloria Romero is, so I “Goggled” the words “Gloria Romero and Mexican Mafia”. And I found these comments from someone named Donkejote. It also remined me of a tear jerking story about gangs and opera.

    All the Carnales are racist and racism is an important movida that every ten year old in Juvie is aware of.
    And Boxers lament that it was a single vato “Alfie” that directed the whole thing without a green light is lame on the face of it.

    His smutting up of Gloria Romero and Polanco and anyone trying to ‘reform” the penal system and or for intervention and money’s spent on prison reform or street gangs was a pathetic political ploy and kind of left me feeling that the book was a propaganda tool in the last couple of chapters.

  • That’s interesting, because I just googled Gloria Romero and the Mexican Mafia and there’s nothing on the first page from “”, which is Tony Rafael’s blog, author of the Mexican Mafia. Hmm. Could this be Wally Fay in the house, giving his old blog a shameless plug?

  • Here’s a pretty good review of “the black hand”.

    8 of 17 people found the following review helpful:
    3.0 out of 5 stars Who wrote this? Certainly not Boxer…, October 6, 2008
    By T. Jenkins “Serious” (West of Medical Center, South of Highland) – See all my reviews
    Amazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
    This review is from: The Black Hand: The Bloody Rise and Redemption of “Boxer” Enriquez, a Mexican Mob Killer (Hardcover)

    For more than a decade the name Boxer carried weight from the streets of Southern California through the cell blocks of the nations largest and most sophisticated prison system. Having viewed the build up to the release of Black Hand, I fully expected this book to be an action packed first person retelling of the life, times and crimes of one Rene “Boxer” Enriquez. What I found instead was an author referring to CDC, district attorney, police, FBI files and media accounts for much of the information contained within. Why promote this as an autobiography when most of the story telling is done by Blatchford? It appears as though the extent of Boxer’s involvement was lending his name and reputation to a project which reads more like a CDC hand book or mission statement than a true retelling of Enriquez’s involvement with the Mexican Mafia. Certainly there are nuggets interspursed here and there but again it is hard to discern if these are statements the author lifted from Boxer’s debriefing interviews or if Enriquez actually wrote or participated in interview sessions which formed the book.

    Obviously Rene brings a level of credibility to the project which is unmatched. The book is most interesting in the areas where Rene’s story is told. It is here where you got what you pay for with the recalling of people and events in a rapid fire action packed manner which keeps the reader engrossed with tales of betrayal, intrigue and prison gang politics.

    Rene’s admission that the Mexican Mafia’s “well oiled” criminal syndicated is administered by leaders “most of whom suffer from serious drug or psychological problems,” may surprise some but fits the profile perfectly of most repeat offenders in California prisons. The book details Enriquez’s own battle with heroin addiction which at one point left him near death on the floor of an L.A., county jail cell.

    Other high points include the exploits of Bat Marquez, Chuy Martinez and Topo Peters, not to mention revelations that the brothers routinely break most of the rules they ridgedly enforce with ruthless efficiency on those who due their bidding or seek their favor behind bars. Infighting, politics and competition could ultimately topple what is often touted as California’s dominant criminal organization.

    The low point of the book coincidently comes toward the end where the author begins to espouse the right-wing rhetoric synonymous with the California Department of Corrections. It is doubtful that a man who has spent as much time in solitary confinement as Enriquez would wish that sort of torture on his worst enemies unless of course he remains the amoral personification of evil the CDC portrayed him as before his denunciation of the brothers he loved so until he politicked himself into the hat. Whatever the case the 7 “suggestions” attributed to the books namesake are policies which the CDC employed long before Enriquez became a “good guy.”

    1. View the Mexican Mafia as organized crime and a domestic terrorist group. – The justice department already considers all street gangs as criminal organizations which make them eligible for prosecution under the RICO act and the Department of Homeland Security, again views street gangs as domestic terror organizations “See the El Rukn case.”

    2. Shut off Mafia communications “using injunctions.” – The federal government authorized a study of the use of injunctions to study the impact they had on curbing gang crime. The study found they were most effective spreading crime to neighboring communities and neighborhoods.

    3. Totally isolate Eme members in prison. – This was the justification for SHU units several years ago. Currently the most secure SHU unit is at Pelican Bay a place the ACLU and United Nations denounced as cruel and unusual punishment. This book details the methods in which prisoners secret messages in and out of the system despite the best efforts to stop them. Or we have a problem with those policing the prisoners, you be the judge.

    4. Prevent Eme members from receiving money. – Not a problem but that increases the amount of money the state has to pay toward inmate goods such as tooth paste and other personal items.

    5. Seize the funds Eme members have in prison trust accounts. – There was never any need to allow them to have trust accounts to begin with.

    6. Prosecute Wives, girlfriends and family members as co-conspirators. – This is already being done “see the case of Sally Peters.”

    7. Prosecute all in custody for criminal conduct, including murders and cold cases. – This has no impact upon inmates serving multiple life sentences “see the comments of Tupi Hernandez.” A death penalty also has no impact upon an inmate serving multiple life sentences considering he will probably receive more freedom on Death Row than in a SHU setting.

    8. Seek capital punishment for murders. – This is already an option that most DA’s allow the inmates to plea out of. Unless a change in the judicial system occurs this is nothing more than political posturing. I believe this was thrown in to start a debate on reducing the amount of time California inmates spend awaiting execution.

    As you can see the book is filled with interesting tidbits as well as interesting insight into the mind of those who run the nations most populous and profitable prison industry. Consider the importance of promoting increasingly draconian prison policies in a time of economic insecurity. Law enforcement is one of the few areas taxpayers are willing to part with millions of dollars “Pelican Bay consumed $218 million tax dollars to build and the state spends an additional $115 +- million a year to operate it.” Coupled with the fact that prison industry is one of the top two industries in the country in terms of revenue generated with a growth rate of 6 % annually, then there is no question that we will continue to see more CDC generated manifestos to justify the incarceration of 2 million people nationwide.

  • GM pulling out had nothing to do with closing NUMMI. It’s nothing more than a red herring to obscure the real reason for closing NUMMI.

    Toyota could’ve bought the other 1/2 of NUMMI for pennies on the dollar after GM filed for bankruptcy. Toyota had $39.4 billion in cash (9/30/09) and could buy 20 NUMMIs if they wanted to, but they decided not to.

    With the 2008 economic crisis lowering demand, Toyota post their 1st loss ever. Toyota needed to do something to keep profits high to satisfy the banks who own the majority of shares of Toyota. Lowering labor costs is the most expedient way to raise profits. Labor costs is the highest cost component. But lowering wages in Toyota plants would not be easy.

    Wages and benefits at the other Toyota plants are pegged to NUMMIs to keep out the union. Toyota workers at their non-union plants enjoy wages that are actually higher than GM workers. It has nothing to do with Toyota’s generosity. It was simply to keep the union out. So Toyota accelerated their plan to lower wages by $300 million by 2011.

    Toyota’s plan to lower wages:

    So closing NUMMI is part of a larger goal of lowering wages companywide. With NUMMI’s UAW represented workforce out of the way, Toyota is free to lower wages across the board and give themselves a higher profit. Good for executives and investors….. bad for workers and the U.S. economy where 70% of GDP is consumer spending.

    All the other “reasons” for closing NUMMI are lies spread by Toyota.

  • Lower wages, and then risk building an inferior product. Also, risk lowering standard of living for middle class Americans who rely on union auto jobs.

    And yet, in some ways, from my own personal perspective, it’s definitely in my interest as a skilled, white-collar professional to have auto workers earn lower wages–it’s certainly an anachronism to have high-school educated workers earning $60,000+ / year, plus pensions. Those days are probably gone, especially when you consider all the professional jobs requiring Master’s degrees that still don’t come close to paying that high a salary.

    Of course, the same could be said about police officers, and other glorified security guards who are paid exorbitant salaries and pensions on a high school education. Sure, it’s dangerous work, but so is ditch-digging, and picking strawberries–that doesn’t mean you should get paid a lot for it. We could always let the market decide, and the chips fall where they may.

  • I have no problem with the police being well payed. I know I’ve brought up their salaries before but it was only to make the case as to how much influence they have over government and the voters. My problem is that it’s getting to the point to where the only living wage jobs available to workers without college degrees are police jobs. I’ve lost count of how many people I know who’ve gone into law enforcement simply because there was nothing else out there. I don’t know how long a free society can stay free when the only opportunities for people without degrees and/or connections is law enforcement.

  • “I’ve lost count of how many people I know who’ve gone into law enforcement simply because there was nothing else out there.”

    I wonder how many are Nazis?

  • Police officers are glorified security guards? A high school education? Just about all departments require college educations and to lead them you better have a masters.

    People who know nothing about law enforcemet are always predictable in their constant ability to show their lack of smarts when they talk about the occupation they slam. Of course hate of officers is almost always at the base of their coments and to expose that hate is easy to do. Tomas and Rob are no exceptions.

    Call one of your “skilled white-collar professional” peers, a ditch digger or strawberry picker next time you need a cop Tomas. I don’t any cop would care and I’m sure you’ll get the level of service a guy like you deserves.

  • WTF, none are Nazis that I know of. All have been smart enough to steer clear of the LAPD. 🙂

  • Sure Fire, I know plenty of people who’ve become cops at all levels in the past decade without an iota of college experience. It may be a requirement on paper to have a college education, but a lot of agencies are looking the other way. Corrections, for starters. I know two corrections officers, who got on in the past couple of years, who I know for a fact have never gone to college. They barely graduated from high school. So, maybe you’re the one who knows nothing about law enforcement? Masters’ degree to become a cop…might be the funniest thing you’ve ever typed, Sure Fire.

  • “a guy like you deserves”

    Of course–ad hominem. It’s loser strategy, and shows you have no argument. Also rather funny considering you’re always whining about big mean reg calling you names. Pathetic and hypocritical. Try a better method.

    It looks like I hit a nerve–you shouldn’t take comments not addressed to you as personal affronts. That being said, I stand by what I said: because of unions, people could live comfortable middle-class lives with little advanced education. My uncle was a cop, and my cousin worked in a Chrysler plant, and both had excellent salaries with solid pensions–and zero college education. Those days are ending. You can’t cherry pick and pretend that SOME unions are legitimate (e.g., police, fire) while OTHER unions are wasteful and corrupt (e.g., teacher, auto). Simply put, if you’re in a union, you’re shielded from market forces–that includes cops. And I don’t care what you say, in the Midwest it is still the norm that most cops have either no education or just a community-college associate’s degree. That’s going to change, and like other union jobs will be more in line with the reality of the private world that the rest of us work in: your skills had better be marketable, updated, and constantly improving, or you’re out. Performance and competition–that’s the reality, whether you like it or not.

    Now, instead of taking this so personally, just accept that not everyone is going to agree with you. If you’d rather hurl insults, then expect them right back at you.

  • Woody, what’s a radical? The only definition of radical I’m aware of is the way we used the word when I was growing up in the ’80s, which meant cool. Like, that’s rad. I’ve heard a lot of Bush Republicans use that term since 9/11 and I never truly understood what it meant. It seemed as if they were calling anyone who disagreed with them radicals.

  • Radical was a term used in the 60’s. For example the college students who protested against the government were called “radicals”.

    Radical is also to describe organizations or persons supporting extreme changes to traditional beliefs of customs.

    For example a radical would believe mexican drug cartels are more compassionate than republicans, or that cops are nazis.

  • You don’t become a cop at all levels Rob, you start out at the bottom and work your way up. What do all levels mean? I don’t speak for prison guards, don’t know what their requirements are, I’m talking about cops. Most agencies for the past many years required you come on with at least a 2 year degree, that can be waived but trying to go from bottom to top step, which means more money, usually has educational requirements attached.

    I read an article the other day on the trouble certain officers have gotten into at some agencies because departments, at least some, are not hiring the best applicants and relaxing their requirements when it comes to an applicant’s history. A little dope use in your background, a d.u.i. and even gang associations have been ok’s so a force can look more like the community they serve. It’s in my opinion insanity to not hire the best.

    I don’t understand the constant lies you have to post in an attempt to refute what I said. I never said you had to have a Masters Degree to become a cop (“Masters’ degree to become a cop…might be the funniest thing you’ve ever typed, Sure Fire”). I said, “Just about all departments require college educations and to lead them you better have a masters”. To lead, as in chief of a department Rob, get it? Reading comprehension not your strong suit Rob or just a pathological liar which is what I believe based on your history of these type lies?

    I had no argument Tomas? Point out your stats that digging a ditch or picking strawberries are as dangerous as police work. You hit no nerve; your post is total b.s. so how could it? Show the reasoning that a cop would need an “advanced education” to work the streets or even promote to a certain level? Police officers, in your opinion, should make less because you think they make too much based on their education level and that irritates you right? Shouldn’t compensation be based on how well you do your job, most importantly those that require a good amount of specialized training such as law enforcement? Your whole rap is arrogant and elitist and since you’re so above a guy like me why don’t you compare the specialized training a I went though with those occupations you compare them to; auto workers, ditch diggers and field workers?

    Cops who are successful, no matter their choice of duty type, bring a certain set of skills to the table, not the same type of skills “skilled white-collar professionals” need to sit behind a desk, or in a cubicle. Somehow they should be compensated less for what they bring to their job as compared to what you do?

    I need my taxes done and I go to my “white collar” tax guy. If he gets in a traffic accident he calls the cops who investigate the accident and make a determination based on evidence, witness statements and their own investigative ability what the PCF was (primary collision factor) which determines fault. I would think that type of skill is pretty important, especially to the suto insurance industry, but you and other people who know nothing about police work feel differently based on what, you having a cop uncle?

    Most cops learn their trade while on the job, advanced college courses aren’t always needed unless you’re shooting for a very high rank. Last week my son, a cop with thee years on, went to a class on Oxycotin because it’s being seen more and more often in the dope community, and in high schools and colleges. My son wants to specialize in narcotics and he’s working toward his goal of being a narcotics detective by attending as much training as he can(yeah Rob, that apple didn’t fall far from the tree) to develop his expertise. Like many officers he’s becoming a more complete cop by attending courses and advanced training classes that help him achieve his goal. Many classes that cops take come with college credits attached, were you aware of that tomas? He doesn’t need an advanced education, based on his occupation, to attain the rank or job specialty that he aspires to but he’s still in a course of study that colleges recognize, but you don’t. How about them apples Tomas?

    Elitist and arrogant “skilled white-collar professionals” could never do the job my son or I did, and you won’t see people like us putting those people down because they chose a different path. That’s the type of domain you work in Tomas, and that’s why we can laugh posts like yours off as B.S.

    Where did I ever speak on what unions are legit and which aren’t? Where are you getting all your information on what cops do and what skills they possess, Rob Thomas? My older brother and younger sister are both big wigs in the banking industry so if I talk to them for awhile about what they do guess that will make me an expert. My sister, by the way, is very high up and has a G.E.D. Her bosses know that but with the skills she’s developed over her 25 plus years they seem to be ok with her, amazing.

    You’re truly living in a dream world if you think “performance and competition” to achieve a certain position is only found in the private sector. When I promoted, the last time I promoted, I had to write a paper on one certain segment of law enforcement, had an updated background done, took a three hour written, went before an outside oral board made up of three chiefs, had an upper staff evaluation done and a chief’s oral. Spare me your tales of what’s in like in your type of business; I doubt it’s any harder than mine.

    Bottom line Tomas is that people who believe it’s a walk in the park to be a cop would never be able to get through an academy much less see even one day on the street.

    “Learn what you don’t do well and don’t do it”.

  • Then Sr. Webster, the police would actually be radicals, right, for straying away from the traditions and customs of our founding fathers, who valued civil rights more than allowing police to control society?

  • They’re duties are way different than those of a police officers, not a swipe just a fact.

    Police control society? Gee, I was under the impression that elected represntatives of the voting public decided what the laws would be and tasked the poice, by statute, to enforce them.

    You don’t like that arrangement do something to change it.

  • It’s their, not they’re, Officer Masters Degree. Do you not consider corrections officers part of the law enforcement community?

    Police constantly violate laws passed by both elected representatives, and the nation’s founding fathers, who passed the supreme law of the land. The police have been on an active campaign to circumvent citizens’ rights to privacy for nearly a century now.

  • According to WTF’s definition of a radical, people wanting radical change from tradition, you can’t get more traditional than the nation’s founding fathers, can you? The police have deviated from their tradition of civil rights more than any institution. Therefore, the police would have to be the biggest radicals in the history of this country, wouldn’t they?

  • When you start corecting others you should at least know who you’re talking to. Kind of defeats your whole post doesn’t it Robbie?

    Pose your quetions to others, I have better things to do.

  • No, it really doesn’t defeat my whole post, whatever that means, because I corrected myself and addressed the right person. Anyway, you’ve got a lot of studying to do, Sure Fire, since a masters degree is now required now to be a cop.

  • “In chemistry, radicals (often referred to as free radicals) are atoms, molecules, or ions with unpaired electrons on an open shell configuration. The unpaired electrons cause them to be highly chemically reactive. Radicals play an important role in combustion….”

  • We’re all agreed that radicals are not beneficial to stability, Woody. Some people are just confused as to who the real radicals are.

  • I clearly defined just how modern day law enforcement is radicalized from the traditions of our founding fathers, specifically where privacy is concerned. If you disagree, I’m all ears, Woody.

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