It is almost after a decade that I visited an auto plant on Friday, October 24 and that also in Silicon Valley. When we were here in 2005, we had seen the plant from a distance and perhaps I had wished to visit the plant. Anand would have mentioned that to Shannon, when our programme to come to US got finalized. And knowing my automobile background and interest, Shannon arranged and fixed up the date for the NUMMI (New United Motor Manufacturing Inc.) plant tour.
It was my first tour of an auto plant in USA that was of interest to Anand too, as he grew up in the residential facilities of Hindustan Motors, where I worked for almost 37 years. Around 20 persons had come to see NUMMI plant that started at around 8.30AM. The middle-aged lady who conducted the group was a real typical American. She had humour in every sentence and gesture of her. She devoted quite sometime to explain why she would not be showing paint shop. Cleanliness is of prime importance in the area and even any deodorant and spray on the body of the visitors may affect quality. Let me impress on the readers; that is a fact and not a joke.
I had known NUMMI, as a model of collaboration between the two auto giants of the two countries- General Motors of USA and Toyota Motors of Japan: both were and are still number one in its country. Perhaps American wished to learn the Japanese manufacturing system or more specifically Toyota Production System. In the small hall where the video on NUMMI plant was shown had at least four distinct posters of MUDA, KANBAN, JIDOKA, and KAIZEN. The lady tour operator kept on referring to these tools during the conducted plant visit too. I firmly believe, the knowledge and practice of all the tools and techniques of TPS can find application in every sector including our day-to-day living, and must become part of the curricula in education starting from school.
I was amazed when the lady informed that the wages for production and maintenance workmen were respectively $ 20 and $ 30 an hour. Perhaps it happened, as United Auto Workers was also a partner in the agreement. Other wise as much as I know the wages in GM and Ford are very high and that is cited as reason for their becoming uncompetitive. As claimed in website, “NUMMI has worked hard to create a unique corporate culture that borrows from Toyota, General Motors and the nearby Silicon Valley environment. NUMMI’s collaborative partnership with the United Auto Workers has been the topic of numerous labor relations studies.”
The plant is pretty old starting in mid-80s. .php However, the cleanliness is superb. It manufactures select models of passenger cars and small trucks of both GM and Toyota brands such as Toyota Corolla, Toyota Tacoma and Pontiac Vibe on its two flexible assembly line. The manufacturing facility includes plastic molding, stamping, body weld, paint, and assembly and the plant is on the property of approximately 380 acres with an annual production capacity of approximately 250,000 cars and 170,000 trucks. It gets mechanicals such as power units from other plants in US. NUMMI gets parts from 3,600 North American suppliers along with 1,000+ California suppliers (total number of jobs supported by NUMMI, approximately 50,000). So California is not only Silicon Valley with IT. And perhaps that is the reason that Fremont is known for maximum ‘desi’ (Indians) population. To me the population at NUMMI appeared to be of pretty mixed nationalities.
I again wonder why Tata Motors needed 1000 acres of fertile land in Singur, West Bengal or now in Sanand in Gujarat for a volume of 3,00,000 of ‘Nano’ that is a much smaller car. Is it is the lust of owning huge land property at cheap price?
As expected, the visit didn’t add much to my knowledge, but it was interesting. I wish before deciding the layouts, the plant designers incorporate the consideration of plant tour for people too. Though I have visited Tata Motors, Pune and Maruti Udyog also, but I wonder if the companies conduct plant tour for general visitors.