By on March 30, 2010

Not only does Public Radio’s This American Life take on one of the most fascinating stories in the auto industry this week, they also give a big shout-out to TTAC’s readers at the end. That means you! Don’t miss this story, if only to have your mind blown by just how big of a party the Fremont, CA, plant was back in the “good old days.”

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12 Comments on “This American Life Takes On NUMMI (With A Little Help From TTAC)...”


  • avatar
    YYYYguy

    I heard this over the weekend. Great little story, best broadcast NPR has done since CarTalk.

  • avatar
    whynotaztec

    To this day, that is the only C&D I have ever saved. I always wanted a GN when they came out, but never did get one. :(

    • 0 avatar
      Bancho

      I loved those things too. Back in the late 80’s I used to go to the “run what you brung” drag races and would watch these things dominate (with a few notable exceptions).

    • 0 avatar

      I had a GN for nearly ten years and sold it in 2006. It was (and still is) an amazing car. It’s the car that my screen name online is derived from and I really regret getting rid of it. I hope to have another cherry one someday.

  • avatar
    kincaid

    As an automotive design engineer working in GMs Warren Michigan headquarters throughout the NUMMI experiment, I was astonished at the clarity with which the NPR broadcast captured the corporate culture that refused to accept the lessons that were handed to them on a silver platter from Toyota. The only reservation I would have about that story is that it was only one of several stories similar in nature about the insular, parochial corporate culture of fifedom guarding and reality rejection that pervaded every department of the corporation. Manufacturing could not take down the company single handedly, they had lots of help from the same kind of thinking that stained engineering, sales, marketing and financial departments too. You could make a similar story about each of these. I will have to say that bankruptcy has shaken up the organization and that there are pockets of humility starting to grow.

  • avatar
    ruckover

    TAL is to radio what TTAC is to the web: a bastion of thoughtfulness, humor, and provocativeness. Listen to their show called “The Giant Pool of Money” and you will understand the housing/fiscal crisis better that 98% of your fellow citizens.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    Thanks Ed for posting this. Being Canadian I don’t get NPR very readily and this was a treat.

  • avatar
    srclontz

    I never miss an episode of This American Life, and this one was especially gripping. Edward Niedermeyer deserves credit for contributing to this particular episode. I especially appreciate the even handed approach that placed the blame with both management and the UAW.

    There is nothing more sad than a tremendous unrealized potential, and I can’t help but wonder where GM would be today if they had been able to change their culture. It was as though several people in the organization had the power to travel through time, and see the future, but they were powerless to stop the events that were to unfold.

    As a union member, I felt proud of what unionized American labor could accomplish in the presence of a little bit of leadership and direction. I drove my Geo Prism during most of my time in college and well after that during my first job. After I sold my Geo Prism, which was over 10 years old, and with 150,000 miles, I wasn’t especially surprised to later learn that it made it to a quarter million miles and was still running strong. Based on my experience, my mom bought a Chevy Prism, and it’s over 10 years old to this day has been extremely reliable, as has my dad’s Toyota Tacoma built in the same plant.

    I wonder what the future holds for a post bankruptcy GM. Sure, cars like the Malibu make it seem as though they have turned the corner, but I thought the same thing when they opened their plant in Spring Hill, TN. Regardless, every one on the board of directors should be required to listen to this story. It confirms everything I heard from GM workers, and as an American taxpayer, I hope they are capable of learning from their past mistakes.

  • avatar
    bmoredlj

    Just finished listening to this…very informative and entertaining account that never lost my attention. It’s obvious Toyota had their motives for cooperating with GM (to see how their production system would work in an American factory) but I still consider their outstretched hand of friendship and cooperation to be extremely refreshing moment in corporate history.

    It’s too bad that in addition to being too big to fail, GM was also too big to function as a single cohesive unit with the production reforms that were needed to stop the precipitous market share drop. Their failure to remain competitive in segments where Toyota began to dominate made it almost too easy for Toyota, hence their eventual and ironic shift to the same emphasis on quantity over quantity that cooked GM’s goose.

  • avatar

    It’s the same old canard of blaming GM for the closing of NUMMI. GM production only accounted for 10% of production. 15% at its peak. After GM stopped odering Vibes back in Aug 09, we were working overtime making 100% Toyotas. The vast majority of the revenues come from selling Toyotas. NUMMI is a Toyota plant.

    Toyota could’ve bought GM’s share of NUMMI for pennies on the dollar after GM filed for bankruptcy. Toyota had $39.4 billion in cash as of 9/30/09 and could’ve easily bought the other half for chump change, but they decided not to. It was Toyota’s decision to shut down NUMMI.

    Toyota shut down NUMMI because it is their only union plant. Wages at Toyota’s other plants are pegged to NUMMI’s to keep out the UAW. With NUMMI out of the way, Toyota is free to lower wages and benefits at their other plants. The closing of NUMMI is a union busting event.

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