By on November 8, 2007

nummi340.jpgSFGate reports that a former quality control inspector at Toyota and GM's joint production facility in Fremont, California is suing her old employer for emotional distress. Katy Cameron, 54, claims supervisors at the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) factory subjected her to a campaign of intimidation after Cameron refused to ignore production defects. Cameron said cars were rolling off the assembly line with "defective seat belts," "water leaks throughout the vehicles," "mirrors falling off," "steering wheel alignment defects" and "missing radiator caps." Managers allegedly began altering her defect reports eight years ago to lower her daily Defect Per Vehicle reports. She says the alterations became "more substantial" two years ago, when she was recording an average of nine to 15 defects per car. At that point, Cameron began retaining her original pencil written reports (to document the changes) and turning-in photocopies. NUMMI spokesperson Lance Tomasu said that while he couldn't comment on the lawsuit, "we will investigate these claims thoroughly."

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17 Comments on “Whistleblower: “Nummi management routinely deleted or downgraded significant and serious defects.”...”


  • avatar
    Bunter1

    Hmmmmm-considering the fact that the vehicles the customers received from NUMMI (whether GM or Toy) have routinely scored very well in reliability I see two likely trains of thought.

    A. She’s fibbin’.

    B. What the heck goes on at the plants with worse scoreing cars?

    Just a thought. Or two.

    Bunter

  • avatar
    KatiePuckrik

    Bunter1,

    I agree with you. Both GM and Toyota are desperately trying to come across as a relaible car maker, she probably thinks they would be willing to pay her to keep her mouth shut.

    It’d be cheaper for GM or Toyota to pay her off, than someone launch an investigation into NUMMI. Just when they don’t need it.

    I think there’s basis for ana argument here…..

  • avatar
    daro31

    So this is news? Anyone who has ever worked in a car plant knows that the successful managers are the biggest crooks in production. They lie cheat and steal everyday to fudge their numbers, because that is what they are rated on. I had a General Foreman once who bought one of those rubber stamp machines that they used to sell in Popular Mecahnics to start your own business. He had duplicated every Quality Control buy off stamp in the place so that rather then pay repair men to chase repairs on overtime through the system he could just go through the plant and approve the repairs himself without ever fixing a thing. It never seems to occur to writers like Bunter1, that perhaps this QC person could be a conscientous dedicated employee, who has gotten sick of reading in the paper how her job is being threatened in America because of the poor reputation for quality that American car makers have, and that after years of that frustration she has decided to take a stand. I have worked in manufacturing automobiles for many years and I can tell you that she is probably just scratching the surface. What if I told you that my production manager had a stencil made up, so that everytime we ran out of heavy duty police brake boosters we could just get out the white spray paint and stencil on the little POL in the right place, rather than interupt production numbers. I am not suing anyone or have any axe to grind, does that make me a fibar to. That kind of creative expertise made that man a regional manager over 6 big assembly plants, so why wouldn't his successors follow his example. Unless you have actually put a few years in on an auto assembly line, I don't believe you have any business denying that what this person says is true, and if you put some time in yourself, than you will have some great crooked management stories of your own and no one will believe you.

  • avatar
    cgraham

    daro31, I agree. I worked in a plant that supplied Honda with the subframe for the civic, accord and a couple others. The quality was never as bad as what is written in this article, but the jigs that were used for QA were ‘adjustable’ for ‘tolerances’. I am not going to get into specifics, but the QA guy was as crooked as they got and would sign off just about anything for fear of loosing his job. I find the whole QA process backwards, parts are checked and if found to fail it MUST be somebodys fault and sombody MUST pay for it. I don’t pretend to have the answer to what it ‘should’ be like but I know that you can’t have good quality by having people scared to report it.
    I do have a question about the writeup though, these cars are driven off the line…how is that done with a missing rad cap? That is a pressurized system that would make a nice mess if it were missing the cap.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    A lot of lip service gets paid to QC and defect reduction (six sigma graduates know this too well) but if your going to hook someone’s feet up to a manual crank telephone over a defect,mistake, or a forgotten radiator cap then human nature dictates corruption is required. No one is going to take one for any team today, especially when the remedy is firing the offender.

  • avatar
    daro31

    I do have a question about the writeup though, these cars are driven off the line…how is that done with a missing rad cap? That is a pressurized system that would make a nice mess if it were missing the cap. It takes a few minutes for an engine to overheat, so a car could certainly make it to rolls test with a missing rad cap. That kind of thing happene anywhere and I am quite sure that it did not leave the plant that way. My plant once had the coolant fill equipment go down, which means that for abut an hour the Superintendant decided to just run without it. On an assembly line guys do not stand around and pour coolant in a radiator with a jug and a bottle like at home. The cooling system has a vacum drawn down on it and then the coolant is sucked into the engine. Rather than shut the line down, they ran for an hour; 60 cars with fresh engines for 3 minutes up to 60 miles an hour with no coolant. When questioned as to whether this might effect the engines reliability, the superintendant said, that is what we have warranty for. I guess he made out alright though, no production stoppage and we only fried 2 engines. I always wondered about the ones that almost broke though. Oh by the way the superintendant was complemented in the next production meeting for his dedication to keeping the plant running.

  • avatar
    Steve_S

    dar031 – Its good to hear tehse stories. It’s just plain sad that this type of stuff goes on.

    Fix the problem not the blame, that way no one gets the blame is the way it should be.

    QA/QC should be incouraged to find defects and they should be a whole other division like Internal Affairs is for the police.

  • avatar
    Orian

    I’d give the lady more credit if her originals weren’t written in pencil. She could photo copy and then change the thing herself.

    I do believe corruption like this happens. I just have to wonder about someone who does reporting in pencil and keeps said easily erasable numbers to herself.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    I wonder how long the West Coast’s lone remaining auto manufacturing plant will stay in business? Nummi is lucky that Toyota is so far selling everything it can make, because come the next downturn that plant is in the cross-hairs. Make a push-pin map of automotive manufacturing, including components, in the US and Nummi stands out like a sore thumb. It is the appendage way out on the fringe of the supply lines. Only it’s proximity to the Port of Oakland for imported components makes any sense.

    The land Nummi sits on is also far more valuable than the land any other US auto plant rests upon.

    Another strike against Nummi is that it is the only UAW factory in the Toyota universe.

    Wouldn’t it be perverse if Katy Cameron’s complaint was answered by Toyota corporate saying, you are right, management of Nummi is corrupt, so we are pulling out of the joint venture with GM? How long do you think GM would keep Nummi on life support? Remember, that factory was closed down by GM before Toyota proposed the joint venture.

    Be careful what you ask for, you might just get it. I’ve taken the free tour of Nummi and found it fascinating. It is a pretty cool tour which includes a long winding trip through the factory seeing the various production stages up close and personal. From what we could see the workers appeared to be diligent and as happy as a person could be doing that kind of work all day long. Maybe they just put on a happy face for the tour, who knows.

    As outsiders we have no idea how much merit Katy’s claims do or don’t have. We do know that the Tacoma, Corolla and Vibe generally get higher than average quality and reliability marks in the end-user’s hands based on the data which is available from JD Power, Consumer Reports and TrueDelta.

  • avatar
    kericf

    I worked QC for a computer company.
    Managers will do anything to fudge the numbers so that the fail rates look better then they are.
    Luckily my manager was a Nazi that stood up to the defects instead of just folding, although most of the time he was over ruled by higher ups thanks to office politics and gold buddy favoritism.

    One example:
    Manufacturing area begins having terrible fail rates, like 13% to 15% a month while building a computer. On average they had maybe 300 to 500 units checked. Manager decides, instead of trying to do a better job, they want us to start inspecting all the CABLES THEY MAKE and add those to the reports. It does not take a genius to build a two pin cable and it cuts down the fail percentage for the area. Now instead of 500 units and 50 fails giving 10%, we have something closer to 1400 units (500 computers 900 cables) and 50 fails cutting the fail rate nearly in half over night. It was funny one time when someone built 150 cables wrong and they got 150 fails. The manager went ballistic and accused us of trying to torpedo him.

    Example two:
    Same manufacturing manager, his good pal owned a steel fabricator. We produced a large key control machine for car dealerships that required a refrigerator sized steel cabinet. Manufacturing of cabinets goes to friend’s company. They have a 75% fail rate for anything ranging from wrong sized cabinets, to paint defect, to cabinets not squared, unlevel, pieces don’t fit. After nearly two years of dealing with them they still were failing nearly 50% of the things we received, but by the manager overturning our QC recommendations they still used them to build. So someone buys 4 of these $40,000 machines and 3 of the 4 don’t work on a regular basis. Turns out those 3 were chassis that QC failed but were over ruled on. We get them back and the things are so crooked nothing would align right. Manager blames it on shipping damage and gets off scot free.

    There are many more examples from every side, to checking shipments, manufacturing, software, all of it is all about CYA (Cover Your Ass).

    QC is a joke, and I believe what this lady says. Managers are only worried about how they look on paper and don’t care about the product. Not all companies work this way, but I bet nearly 85% do.

  • avatar
    daro31

    QA/QC should be incouraged to find defects and they should be a whole other division like Internal Affairs is for the police. In the Automotive Assembly plants I have worked in QA/QC are like the police. We all speed a little if we think they aren't around. It is in a supervisors best interest to keep on the good side of QC, because they can make you life hell. I used to need a seperate budget for coffee for my end of line inspectors. So many things are judgement calls, wire routing, door margins, paint scratches. When I was a chassis supervisor we got a bunch of noisy heater blower motors in from the vendor. The first words out of the General Foremans mouth to me, was you better be able to sell those to QC, I sure don't want them all written up. Part of a supervisors appraisal came down to how good you were at having QC in your pocket. I was working final delivery one night after shift, something had gotten out of rotation at tire decking so we ended up with a car going out the back door with 4 different brands of tires on it. The production manger was around and he knew it was there, so rather than miss a car off his final nights tally, he grabbed the final buy off QC and asked hin what he thought about a scratch on the tailight lense. That managed to tie up the QC long enough that he never checked the tires and the car went on his way. Once again a good score for the production manager and a feather in his cap. As always these things go on everywhere but the thing that gets me is that I know that the people that worked this way in the trenches are rewarded well, and moved up the food chain. So how does the Wagner's and Mullaneys of this world think that he can get these tigers to change their stripes, or even have a clue when it comes to caring about the product and customer before themselves. They got there by being "CAReer" guys, not CAR guys.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    An hourly worker who cares about the stuff she is making? Will wonders never cease?

  • avatar
    Raskolnikov

    Am I the only one here who has worked in a production facility where people actually CARED??

    8 years I spent in our plants and never saw egregious examples of quality abuse like you people are saying. I questioned some decisions, but always thought that we were taking care of the customer.

    However a good friend of mine worked for the Subaru/Yota (formerly Isuzu) plant in Lafayette, IN. Let’s just say I will NOT be purchasing anything made in that plant….ever.

  • avatar
    Bunter1

    daro31-
    perhaps you missed my point “B”.

    Her claims are at odds with the reliability records of the plants output that been amoung the industries best for twenty years.

    IF her report is accurate, and it COULD be, then perhaps other plants have been far worse.

    Again, just a thought.

    Cheerio,

    Bunter

  • avatar
    daro31

    Bunter 1 perhaps you missed my point “B”. I was in a plant with worse scoring cars, and that is the type of stuff that goes on, that I have recounted. I also continue to say on here that the Quality of cars is mostly a design/price/cost choice. The auto hourly assembler has very little input into the quality. An automobile is probably one of the most complicated manufactured products there is. For the guy on the line the right way is the usually the easiest way to perform his job. When things go out of spec, or defective parts are introduced it is how management handles those problems that effects the quality of the cars. One of the best things that has happened to automotive Quality in the last 20 years is outsourcing to 2nd tier suppliers. If they screw up there is all kinds of pressures available to the Big 3 to fix problems. If it is a part from the mother company though, believe me you will just have to learn to live with it.

  • avatar
    Bunter1

    daro31-
    Not knockin’ your experience.

    Just noting that you seemed to have missed that I did not assume she was lying, merely pointed out that it was a possibility.

    It is possible that your point of view, which incidently fits in with my “point B” nicely, could be correct.

    Take care,

    Bunter

  • avatar
    nanapat

    I bought a 2007 Toyota Corolla in May 2007 this Corolla came from the NUMMI factory and I can personally tell you that it is a LEMON !!!! I have filed so many Lemon Law complaint’s on this car and also have reported the dealer.. This car has so many flaw’s, defect’s and problem’s I am sick over it.. So don’t knock the Whistleblower in this case she is doing consumer’s a favor and I am only sorry I didn’t know about it before the dealer stuck me with this car..

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