Culture Clash, or why the Americans and Japanese build cars differently

I just listened to an excellent This American Life episode on the NUMMI plant in my hometown of Fremont, California. The NUMMI plant used to be the General Motors plant, built in 1962 but closed down in 1982. A Toyota-GM joint venture was launched, and the plant reopened in 1984 as the New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. The NUMMI staff went to Japan to learn the Toyota Way, and it worked: the NUMMI plant was far more productive than the old GM plant was, even though they were largely employing the same people.

For a variety of social reasons, however, GM couldn’t reproduce on its own the success of the NUMMI joint venture. GM pulled out of NUMMI last June, and Toyota later decided to shut down the plant. The last car rolled off the line the day before yesterday—yes, on April Fools Day.

But really: listen to the podcast. It’s very well done.