September 16, 2009 > Letter to the Editor: NUMMI closing
Letter to the Editor: NUMMI closing
I worked 15 years at General Motors Assembly Plant in Fremont until they closed in 1982. I then was hired by NUMMI in 1984 and retired in 2003. The first year at General Motors I worked on the passenger assembly line and then went into skilled trades training for a career that I enjoyed for the rest of my time at both GM and NUMMI.
NUMMI gave large grants to the City of Fremont and to many non-profit organizations in the Bay Area. This was not a two way street. I spoke before Fremont City Council on a number of occasions asking the City of Fremont to purchase cars that were being built in their city. The City found a lot of ways NOT to purchase NUMMI cars and/or trucks, but did purchase Fords of the same size.
Now that NUMMI may close, we wonder why they are closing and are trying to work some legislative magic. I think that magic should have been created 10 or 20 years ago. NUMMI has been a good employer in Fremont; they have reduced the amount of waste, cleaned up the environment from their production lines and provided good wages to workers. This is the only Toyota affiliated plant in the United States that uses United Auto Workers to build their cars and trucks.
NUMMI has also been one of the most important Auto Companies in the United States for improving the quality and efficiency of US auto plants. The Toyota System has been incorporated in many Ford, GM and Chrysler plants by inviting executives from these companies to observe the NUMMI plant. There was a HUGE difference between how Toyota and GM built cars in the same plant. GM stockpiled parts, sub-assemblies and partially complete cars. GM also was more concerned about the number of cars off the end of the line. Toyota and NUMMI were concerned about shippable cars off the end of the assembly line. That meant stopping the entire production line - GM estimated a cost of $25,000 a minute - to fix a problem. GM had months of parts for their automobiles in the plant at all times, NUMMI normally had no more than 3 shifts worth of parts, even body parts.
The US Auto Industry owes NUMMI much of their current success with quality and leaner production; if the Big Three get a bail-out NUMMI should also get one. An example of the difference: Cadillac a Division of GM has a stamping plant that produces body parts for Cadillac cars. To change from a left front fender to a right front fender normally took 8-hours with their best team of six to eight skilled trades workers. NUMMI could change from a front fender on a car to a front fender on a truck using two or three production workers in 5 minutes or less. Time in both instances is counted from the last good fender of the old part to the first good fender of the new part.
General Motors built machines to last 20-years, Toyota/NUMMI built machines that would last 5-7 years because Toyota knew that by the time that machine was installed it was obsolete and that in a few years better technology could be implemented to build cars better and more efficiently. This also drove the machine builders to improve their technology to meet this demand.
NUMMI was a great company to work for and they were good for the Fremont area. Trying to pass legislation now that should have been passed years ago is too late and too little. We need to learn from this lesson and support manufacturing companies in our area and purchase their products even if they are slightly more expensive. This may be the only way to keep manufacturing jobs here in the Bay Area.