No decision on whether NUMMI will build Prius

June 18, 2009 6:25:50 PM PDT
Terrible news for the Bay Area's only auto-manufacturing facility and the people who depend on it.

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General Motors announced that it is stopping production of its Pontiac line much earlier than expected and that leaves workers at the NUMMI plant in Fremont facing a financial crisis.

NUMMI's first shift workers arrived early anticipating good news, that Toyota will be assembling the Prius here. Instead, they were blind-sided by GM with word that production of the Pontiac Vibe will end in two months.

The news was an unexpected blow to the plant's workers. One out of every four vehicles produced on the line here is a Pontiac Vibe.

The phase-out comes a year earlier than expected.

"We were expecting September 10th of next year. Apparently now, it sounds like General Motors is reorganizing North America, and we were part of the cut," said UAW Local President Sergio Santos.

The earlier than expected end of Vibe casts a cloud over the plant. Assembly line workers put in only four days of work -- Fridays they're off without pay.

Still, many are hoping for better news.

"We want to make sure our quality stays good and do the best we possibly can. Hopefully Toyota will see that we just had the best rating we possibly could for defects, and we'll pull through it," said NUMMI employee John Fuentes.

Suppliers like Hayward's Injex Industries will also feel the pain. They make the door panels for the Vibe.

NUMMI management was guarded in a statement it issued on Thursday, saying it will focus on building high quality vehicles and work on lowering its costs while GM and Toyota discuss NUMMI's future direction.

That future may or may not include production of the Toyota Prius, the carmaker's best seller. It appears that decision is still up in the air.

"You hope it still might happen?" said Moneyscope reporter David Louie.

"Of course, who wouldn't?" said assembly line worker Chuck Askew.

Sources tell ABC7 News that assembling the Prius could be used by Toyota to win concessions from the UAW. Negotiations for a new contract begin next month.

The NUMMI plant could be competing against a plant in Mississippi.

"The South's already got this place, and it's halfway built with the facility now. So what happens is they say we can stay here, we've got the equipment, we've got the building, we've got the people who have been trained in our ways. We'd like to do it, so you don't want to cave in. You want to negotiate," said labor law attorney Phil Sims.

There is some good news at NUMMI. The plant is planning to go from one shift to two in August for the Toyota Tacoma pick-up. That will coincide with the phase-out of the vibe.

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