By on August 14, 2019

In last Wednesday’s QOTD post we covered all the worst examples of automotive collaboration. Commenters racked up the examples, sharing collaboration failures even worse than the Jaguar X-Type selected for textual pillory in the post.

Today we flip it around and discuss the best outcomes of automaker cooperation.

As before, both formal joint ventures and more casual manufacturer cooperation are up for discussion. Today’s example of cooperative excellence came with length and some serious production figures.

Of course that’s not really a Chevrolet Nova in the photo, but rather a Toyota Corolla. The twins were the first product of the long-lived NUMMI plant. Opened in 1984, the plant was jointly owned by General Motors and Toyota. The location originally existed as General Motors Fremont Assembly, in operation between 1962 and 1982. Fremont produced a variety of vehicles including the C/K trucks, Pontiac GTO, and the Chevrolet Celebrity.

The benefits for each company were clear: General Motors wanted to learn about lean manufacturing from an expert, and Toyota wanted to establish a manufacturing location in North America while implementing their production methodology on a new continent. A secondary benefit to Toyota came from the avoidance of import restrictions, back when such things were a concern.

Cars produced at NUMMI included one generation of Nova, five generations of Corolla, three generations of Geo/Chevy Prizm, the Toyota Pickup, Tacoma, and Matrix, and the Pontiac Vibe. Peak production occurred in 2006; a hefty 428,633 units.

Though the products were just fine, all was not well at NUMMI. The plant operated at about 59 percent capacity in the late Eighties, and had not made back its investment costs by 1991. GM was unable to implement the lean manufacturing techniques across their other U.S. plants. Toyota experienced higher costs at NUMMI, as it was the company’s only union plant in the country. Toyota’s manufacturing and supply chains were centralized in the Midwest, very far from Fremont. Relations were strained.

In June 2009 GM announced the joint venture’s end, as it and Toyota could not decide on a worthwhile product to produce at the location. Later that year, Toyota announced Tacoma production would shift to San Antonio, with Corolla moving to Mississippi. The last vehicle produced under the GM-Toyota ownership was a Corolla, on April Fools Day 2010. NUMMI lives on today as the Tesla Factory and tent city.

What’s your pick for best manufacturer cooperation?

[Images: GM]

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85 Comments on “QOTD: Automotive Cooperation Done Right?...”


  • avatar
    scott25

    Generally Ford and Mazda’s cooperative efforts, like the Mazda MX-6/Ford Probe, Focus/Mazda 3, and Ranger/Mazda B.

    They very rarely negatively effected each other, at least on their NA market vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Don’t forget the earlier Escort/Protege connection, the Mazda’s BP motor and chassis work really made the Escort GT/Tracer LTS very decent driving cars.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Disagree. That was total disaster for Mazda. Relatively reliable cars now became Cr2p. Mazda626 was now built with bad engines and especially transmissions (Ford). These trannies needed replacement 45K miles max. MX6/Probe – same thing.

      The best example in this cooperation was Escort/Protege. And this is because they installed Protege into body of Escort. And this was a reliable car. Same escort with Ford 1.9L was not reliable. Even original CX9 had its issues in powertrain because it was Ford design, built in Japan

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        The Ford 1.9 was weak and noisy but it was pretty much bulletproof. I knew a lot of people who took 1.9-powered Escorts a long way.

        • 0 avatar
          tankinbeans

          I bought a 1.9 litre 1993 Escort. It still had the 5 digit odometer and when I got it it read 90k, but the prior owner mentioned he believed the odometer had rolled over once.

          It was slow, but that was probably a good thing for my 17 year old self. Still averaged about 27 mpg mixed driving.

        • 0 avatar
          PandaBear

          1.9 has valve drop issue, not reliable.

      • 0 avatar
        brn

        Far from a disaster for Mazda. Quality improved for both companies. Clearly helped Mazda sales.

      • 0 avatar
        Daniel J

        What?

        2008 Mazda 3. Bulletproof. 2010 mazda 6. Bulletproof. I still see that same generation of Mazda 3s around all the time, but I rarely seem to see a focus of that same generation. The 2.0 and 2.5L MZR engines in my experience were just fantastic.

        • 0 avatar
          slavuta

          Daniel J,

          if you’re talking to me…
          you need to look at the deep in sales after few years of unreliable Mazda. If you’re talking about Mazda3 – yes – these cars were good. These are global cars, japan-built and designed. If anything, Mazda gave Ford a better small cars and not wise-versa. But when Ford was installed into Mazda, these had problems.
          !! With Ford DNA in Mazda, the market share for Mazda fell from 2.8 to 1.7% And this is the real measure how well brand did.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    Dodge and Lamborghini on the Viper engine.

    Mercedes and Porsche on the 500E.

    Toyota and Lotus on….everything.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Good call on the Lotus powered by Toyota deal. Too costly for a small, niche company to develop an entire engine/power plant when you can basically do a factory swap/drop in type deal. Mazda could learn from this and stick to excellent chassis work but borrow someones else’s engine.

      How about Yamaha and Ford with the old SHO engine?

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    I honestly don’t know which list this belongs on – best or worst.

    The Ford-GM transmission(s) – did this work out well or not so well or is it more subtly nuanced?

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      Seeing how many MPGs the current generation Camaro lost going to the mutual 10 speed from its old GM sourced 8 speed, I would say it was a huge disaster.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        They cooperated on the 6 speed auto the two of them started using in the late 2000s and that seemed to be at least as durable as the ancient 4 sped FWD transaxle that GM was using.

  • avatar

    The Mercedes 500E….built by Porsche. Does that count, as it wasn’t branded or sold Porsche ?

  • avatar
    downunder

    Mazda 323 – Ford Laser/Meteor/TX3. Did such a good job, the Ford outsold the Mazda about 3 to 1. Mazda 626 – Ford Telstar/TX5

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Loved my Honda V6 powered Saturn Vue.
    That rig had lots of speed, good fuel econ, and the plastic body.

    Only reason I sold it was my daughter birthed more grandkids than it had seating positions.
    15 yrs later it’s still running around my ‘hood, the guy I sold it to loves it, looks like brand new.

  • avatar
    volvo

    Porsche 924. Kept affordable by raiding the VW parts bin. A fun well balanced car.

    Toyota Yaris iA – Mazda 2 in disguise. Got one as a short rental last year. Expected a penalty box experience but was pleasantly surprised by the handling and performance on the winding mountain road I was traveling. Of course it is no longer offered in current model year.

    • 0 avatar
      King of Eldorado

      The former Yaris iA is now known as simply the Yaris with the discontinuation of the old non-Mazda model, and is currently available in the US. Toyota has shown a hatchback version also based on the Mazda 2; I’m not sure if it’s out yet.

      • 0 avatar
        volvo

        Good to know. It would be on my very short list of small, inexpensive driveable cars.

        • 0 avatar

          The actual Mazda 2 sold here those couple years was very sad. When you see an adult in one, the have a sad look on their face.

          • 0 avatar
            TheDutchGun

            This comment made me laugh

          • 0 avatar
            Maymar

            Have you driven one? Not that it appeals to your wafty tastes, but it’s a fine car that’s not as completely Novocaine’d out as most other modern cars. I’ll admit to wanting 20 more hp (or at least a power curve and gearing that suit each other way better), and the sound deadening is not fantastic. But, I have access to plenty of modern stuff, and I’m not sad to get back into my 2 after.

          • 0 avatar
            SPPPP

            I strongly disagree, Corey. I think the Mazda 2 hatch was a nimble and pleasant little car. It would have benefited from a power bump and a nicer interior, but that was probably not realistic given the competition and the price point. Actually, a Mazdaspeed 2 could have been pretty great!

            Also, the Mazda 2 came in a few actual colors. Every time I pass one in Spirited Green Metallic, I smile.

          • 0 avatar

            I didn’t know the Mazda 2 had such fans! Certainly not my type of car, but it’s hard to find it anything other than ugly.

    • 0 avatar
      spookiness

      It just dropped the Scion and iA badges. It has expanded to multiple trim levels, whereas it used to be only one, and a hatch is forthcoming for MY2020.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    This might be stretching the definition a bit. But the Dodge/Ram and Cummins partnership is long running and extremely successful.

  • avatar
    volvo

    I don’t think that is stretching it. Cummins is diesel done right.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      Tangential to that, I’m still curious as to what the dialog was in the ’70s between GM’s passenger car divisions and Diesel Division of General Motors of Canada. There had to be some expertise there that didn’t make it into the Oldsmobile diesel for whatever reasons.

      • 0 avatar
        JoeBrick

        @Featherston-
        The conversation went like this-
        “We need a new diesel engine for our passenger cars”
        “How much will it cost ?”
        “X million dollars”
        “That’s ten times too much. Convert a gasoline V-8 to run on diesel.”
        “But that won’t work.”
        “We’re GM. We can sell anything. Do it.”
        “Yes, Sir.”

        • 0 avatar
          JoeBrick

          @Featherston- >>> CORRECTION !<<<
          The conversation went like this-
          “We need a new diesel engine for our passenger cars”
          “How much will it cost ?”
          “X million dollars”
          “That’s ten times too much. Convert a gasoline V-8 to run on diesel.”
          “But that won’t work.”
          “We’re GM. WE HAVE 50% MARKET SHARE. We can sell anything. Do it.”
          “Yes, Sir.”

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I’ll nominate a couple from the late ’80s:

    1) Diamond-Star sports coupes
    2) Mazda MX-6/Ford Probe

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Can I suggest the original Suzuki/GM products produced at CAMI? Without getting ‘flamed’ too much?

    The Sidekick and Vitara and the Tracker. Some of the original small SUV/CUVs but with some actual off road capabilities.

  • avatar
    Blackcloud_9

    I agree Corey’s assessment about the NUMMI plant. Owned a Geo Prizm and a Toyota Matrix. Those cars ran and ran and ran. The Geo went 205,000 miles the Matrix over 130,000. The reasons we got rid of the cars were more cosmetic (Both were moderately crunched in separate accidents) than mechanical.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      The weak points on the cars were parts supplied by GM. When I met her, my wife had a NUMMI-built ’92 Corolla sedan that she had bought new. It used a few Delco parts, like the alternator I replaced a couple of times. Fortunately she’d already had it replaced before we met, with a Pep Boys rebuilt Delco. It carried a lifetime warranty, so it was just a matter of taking the old one in and exchanging it for a new one.

    • 0 avatar
      djsyndrome

      My Matrix ran for 275k miles before the cost to pass CA smog became more than the car was worth.

      It also wasn’t built at NUMMI – like all Matrixes (Matricies?), it was built in Canada.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    Very recent one: The Aston Martin/Mercedes Benz partnership. Without this, AM doesn’t develop its latest generation of stunning cars, and they stay behind the times in infotainment. Or, to the horror of everyone, they get taken over by a company that has zero knowledge on how to handle them. (Example: when Proton ran Lotus.)

  • avatar
    gottacook

    Slight clarification: There were indeed two generations of Geo Prizm, the pictured early-1990s version (which also was made as a 4-door) and the 1993-97 (4-door only). But NUMMI also produced its successor, the 1998-2003 Chevy Prizm, after GM gave up trying to maintain a Geo brand. We had a ’99 5-speed, our first new car, and it’s still running (sold to a friend in 2010).

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    The Nova was basically a Toyota Corolla Sprinter, a version (body) of the Corolla not sold in this country.

  • avatar
    bufguy

    The latest collaboration…Toyota Supra/ BMW Z4….The reviews of both cars have been good…Let’s see how the collaboration ages.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Toyota styling with BMW Reliability! Sign me right up.

      I jest, it really isn’t that bad either way. Toyota wan’t going to make anyone happy with the new Supra unless they just started building MK IV’s again.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    AMC Renault- yes they gave us the subpar Renault Alliance/Encore based on the Renault 9. But they designed the XJ Cherokee, all new YJ Wrangler and commenced the design continued by Chrysler of the ZJ Grand Cherokee.

  • avatar
    happycamper

    Let’s stop for a minute and pour one out for the Dodge/Mitsubishi collaboration that resulted in the Dodge Stratus coupe and Mitsubishi Eclipse.

  • avatar
    JoeBrick

    Dodge Stealth. My friend had one. It would do 140mph and handled very well.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    Would the 3 way between Ford, Mazda and Kia during the late 80s into the early 90s when the Festiva was first built count? My dad was a skinflint from the word go and, when mom told him he needed to get a new car in 1992 after his 78 Skyhawk tried to kill me, he bought a 92 Festiva that he loved for its stinginess. In the 5 years he had it, nothing went wrong as I recall.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Bias alert.

    GM/Isuzu.

    Isuzu took the humble T-body, gave it a gorgeous body (Impulse JR), a better suspension, a better engine (both NA and turbo), better transmission (5-speed manual or 4-speed auto), better build quality, 4-wheel discs, fuel injection, and built something far more special than the Chevette.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Mercury Villager/Nissan Quest. When these sold together, they sold tons of them. And both were fairly reliable. But not refined.

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    Although it’s well-storied, doesn’t hurt to revisit This American Life’s take on NUMMI

    https://www.thisamericanlife.org/561/nummi-2015

  • avatar
    STS_Endeavour

    Lotus and DeLorean

    Thunderbird SC and the Mazda M5R2 manual transmission

    Lincoln and Hongqi Qijian CA7460.

    Maybe that last one should have gone on the bad list.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    (puts on DeadWeight-proof nomex suit)

    GM’s absorption of Daewoo.

    The post-Daewoo, largely Korean-engineered small cars were just a level of competence above the earlier ones. Compare the Cruze with the Cobalt, or the Sonic with the Aveo. I now have one of these Korean-influenced GM cars — a Bolt — and it is well-assembled and very well thought out, although the interior materials are cheap.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Does the Lotus Elise having a Toyota Motor count?

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    What about the Mclaren Pontiac Grand Prix? Think of it as the everyman’s F1!

  • avatar
    brn

    Jaguar / Ford.

    Hate the X-Type all you want.
    – The Lincoln LS was a great car.
    – Ford did wonders for the XJ and XK. They reworked them, dramatically improving quality, while maintaining the Jaguar feel. Love those cars.


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