Toyota sales head talks about NUMMI closure


James Lentz, head of U.S. Toyota sales, answered questions from some very unhappy autoworkers Tuesday morning. Callers lit up the board on the Ron Owens Radio Show on KGO.

"You got 4,700 union members here busting their butt every day to produce the best vehicle that they can," said a caller.

"We just can't understand why they want to take the production from California, being that California is the No. 1 consumer and the No. 1 seller of Toyota products," said another caller.

Lentz says he knows it's a difficult time for the workers. But, he added, it comes down to logistics.

"Nobody likes to close a plant down," said Lentz. "The economics of having a plant in California so far away from the supplier lines, most of the parts that come to that plant still come from the Midwest. It just doesn't make business sense for us to continue."

Toyota is taking the production lines from the Fremont plant and moving some of them to Texas and some to Canada. As of April 1, 4,700 NUMMI workers will be unemployed.

But the layoffs will ripple out to hundreds of suppliers and workforce estimated at 50,000.

"As of April 1, when you have 50,000 of us unemployed, what's Toyota's sales going to be like in California?" asked a caller.

"Well, California is, as I was saying, about what's happening to this truck market," said Lentz.

Lentz skirted around that question, but the plant's United Auto Workers president was more direct.

"Well, we might have to pull out a chapter of Cesar Chavezes book and boycott Toyota cars, trucks, who knows," said UAW Local 2244 President Sergio Santos.

"That's their right to do that. It's not going to change the fact that we're going to stop ordering Toyota products at the end of March," said Lentz.

The UAW says it doesn't want to start a boycott of Toyota. But the union is considering it as a tactic to pressure Toyota.

Toyota says part of the blame for closing the plant belongs to General Motors. GM was partners with Toyota in NUMMI, but pulled out when it declared bankruptcy.

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