Most of the stories in the business press about General Motors Corp. have a positive spin these days (despite paying back a government loan with more government money). But has the company really turned the corner? A reader sent this link to a story from PBS Newshour a few weeks ago with some comments that make me wonder. The story, "California braces as NUMMI auto plant nears closing," is about how the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant -- a joint venture between GM and Toyota -- was preparing to close. (It has since shut down). Our reader wrote: "They were first a GM plant, which folded. The plant then morphed into a joint GM/Toyota partnership where they championed and implemented the principles of lean manufacturing. They went so far as to rehire the original laid off GM workers and take them to Japan for training. "After the plant reopened, their numbers dominated other GM plants for many years. However, on April 1st, the NUMMI plant will close its doors as Toyota has opted to increase orders from other manufacturing locations. "To me, this story is less about the economy and job loss, but rather the importance and effectiveness of lean manufacturing. This also offers a glimpse into the ingrained culture at GM, which failed to adapt and look long-term at their industry. Everyone that works in manufacturing should know the story of NUMMI." Robert Cole, a University of California business school professor quoted in the report, noted that the GM-Toyota JV was mostly successful, especially for Toyota. The company learned how to manage U.S. workers, and how to replicate its just-in-time inventory delivery system that it had in Japan. But for GM, NUMMI was less successful.
For at least 10 years, they showed very little interest in serious learning from that plant. So, a lot of the GM managers that were sent there were put back into low-level positions, where they had no influence, because people didn't want to hear that Japan is doing things better.A natural human reaction, perhaps. But it's an attitude that has long plagued GM -- and Toyota's recent safety-related problems will just make it worse.