As the fallout from the Toyota recall proliferates, The General has avoided most of the shrapnel. It has, however, had to halt the sale of the remaining models of the Pontiac Vibe – which was a full-on rebadge of the Toyota Matrix. The Vibe is part of Toyota’s recall to fix an accelerator pedal design flaw that results in unintended acceleration. The impact on The General is minimal, as it has nearly completed the phase-out of the Pontiac brand while Toyota has agreed to handle the recall.
Indeed, the move is the most recent event in a collaboration story that began in 1984. As a joint manufacturing effort, in 1984 Toyota and General Motors rechristened GM’s former Fremont, California manufacturing plant as “NUMMI,” New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. GM wanted to learn about then revolutionary Japanese manufacturing processes, including “kaizen” or “continual improvement.” Toyota wanted to test whether its processes were compatible with the North American workforce. GM withdrew from the effort last year, while Toyota plans to withdraw by the end of the first quarter of this year. In its 25 year history, the plant was responsible for producing Toyota’s compact pickup (the Tacoma) and several clone pairs: the 1985-88 Chevrolet Nova was a rebadged Toyota Corolla, as was the Geo-turned-Chevrolet Prism. The plant produced the Corolla throughout its history. Built on the Corolla platform, the Toyota Matrix and identical Pontiac Vibe are among the last vehicles to be produced at NUMMI. Recent incarnations of both models are subject to the current Toyota recall.
In addition to manufacturing, Toyota and GM have collaborated on alternative fuel technologies. In 1999, the pair teamed up on electric vehicle development, including battery and charging technology. Initially, there Toyota was seriously considering allowing Chevrolet to market a re-badged Prius. Collaboration also produced progress in the nascent stages of fuel cell research, although cooperation ceased when the research moved from the initial exploration to the proprietary development stage.
Toyota and General Motors compete in virtually every automotive segment. But during Toyota’s recent recall due to unintended acceleration, the media, this site included, have portrayed both players as cut-throat zero-sum competitors. Failure to contextualize those remarks obfuscates the nuances in a symbiotic relationship that proved mutually beneficial for nearly a quarter of a century.[Sources: CNN, Reuters, WSJ, Popular Mechanics, MSNBC]