A report that Toyota will exit its NUMMI venture in March, coupled with production of the final Pontiac Vibe at the Fremont auto plant Monday night, underscored the urgency of the quest to rescue the embattled factory.
Toyota Motor Corp. is considering a plan to cease production at the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. factory in March 2010, according to a Japan-based newspaper's published report that appeared in this paper's Saturday editions. The original report came from daily newspaper Asahi Shimbun, which didn't cite any sources, named or anonymous.
"There has been no final decision," said Mike Michels, a spokesman for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. "That March 2010 timetable is not attributed to anyone. All the stories that are coming out now are strictly speculative."
Despite the ominous new developments, union officials and state lawmakers remained determined to extricate the factory from the array of challenges that jeopardize its future.
"Toyotas sold here should be made here," said Sergio Santos, president of UAW Local 2244, which represents union members who work at the NUMMI plant.
The final vehicle that NUMMI produced for GM, a Pontiac Vibe, was scheduled to roll off the assembly line at the Fremont plant at about 8 p.m. on Monday, according to UAW official Santos. That Vibe was expected to be immediately followed on that part of the assembly line by a Toyota Corolla, Santos said.
"Right now we are being flooded with orders for Corollas because of the cash for clunkers program," Santos said.
NUMMI employs about 4,700 people. NUMMI officials didn't respond to requests for a comment about the current situation or the production of the last Vibe.
California legislators hope that a package of bills that would dangle several financial incentives before Toyota will be passed by the state Assembly and state Senate and be ready for the governor's signature within two weeks.
"We are moving full steam ahead," said state Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro. "All lawmakers are aware of how important it is to move swiftly with this legislation. We are doing everything we can to get the bills moved swiftly."
Assemblyman Alberto Torrico, D-Fremont, said he also expects that his bill of financial incentives will get through the Legislature by the end of the month.
Toyota hopes to reach a final decision by Aug. 31 about NUMMI. For 25 years, the Fremont factory was a 50-50 joint venture between Toyota and General Motors Corp. That venture began to unravel when GM emerged from bankruptcy and send it would exit the NUMMI operation.
GM's exit, in turn, pressured Toyota to ponder its future involvement with NUMMI. Besides the Pontiac Vibe, the factory has been making the Toyota Tacoma truck and the Toyota Corolla compact.
"The situation we now face is a direct result of GM's decision to abandon NUMMI and discontinue production," Yoshimi Inaba, president of Toyota Motor North America Inc., wrote in a letter to Fremont's mayor that was obtained by this newspaper.
Toyota is in discussions with Motors Liquidation Corp., which is handling GM's discarded assets, including NUMMI, about the future of the plant.
"GM's decision, when combined with the current distressed market conditions and an excess production capacity in North America, makes the decision about the future of NUMMI a question of viability," Inaba wrote.
Union officials hope the legislative efforts — combined with a big union rally as UAW headquarters in Fremont on Thursday — will prod Toyota to keep the NUMMI plant operating for decades to come.
"You know that you're not alone," said Javier Contreras, bargaining chairman for UAW Local 2244. "It's great to see support from the community and from our state officials."
What: United Auto Workers members are scheduled to rally at UAW Local 2244 headquarters
Day: Thursday, Aug. 20
Time: 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: 45201 Fremont Blvd., Fremont (across the street from the NUMMI factory.)