NUMMI plant in Fremont, CaliforniaEnlarge Photo
2010 Toyota CorollaEnlarge Photo
2010 Toyota TacomaEnlarge Photo
The New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. facility -- better known as NUMMI -- has had an impressive run. Opened in Fremont, California by General Motors in 1962, closed in 1982, and reopened as a joint GM/Toyota venture in 1984, NUMMI has produced hundreds of thousands of vehicles and employs Toyota's only UAW workforce. Unfortunately, due to its recent restructuring, GM pulled out of NUMMI last year, and although Toyota still uses the facility to produce the 2010 Corolla and 2010 Tacoma, the company plans to wrap production by the end of this month. However, an electric vehicle startup has hopes of keeping NUMMI's lights on and 4,700 employees on the payroll.
The startup is called Aurica Motors, and it's based in Santa Clara, California. Aurica has designed a chassis for an electric vehicle with in-wheel motors called the Aurica E-Car -- which doesn't sound especially new or intriguing, but the chassis' ability to accommodate modular tops does, since it could facilitate easy manufacture of multiple body styles. To date, Aurica has spent most of its resources on developing prototypes of its Recurve Drive System, which extends EV range. In fact, general manager Matt Pitagora says that one of the major reasons Aurica wants to segue into vehicle production is to boost the profile of that drivetrain technology.
Under normal circumstances, we'd be excited by these plans. Aurica's EV sounds like a reasonably good fit for NUMMI and for green-leaning California. The takeover would keep an important manufacturing facility in use. Aurica's a startup, an outsider, and like many folks, we like to root for the underdog. But most importantly: it's Thursday, and Thursdays were made for optimism.
Unfortunately, we have some reservations.
First of all, we know nothing about Aurica Motors LLC, even though it's apparently been around for four years. The company
doesn't seem to have a website, and it doesn't have a page on Wikipedia. [Correction: www.auricamotors.com]. It's not listed in the book: try Googling "Aurica Motors, Santa Clara, CA". It doesn't even show up in the Californa Secretary of State's business database. That's not to say that Aurica hasn't filed for its LLC in California, but for a company that new to take on a project the size of NUMMI? Hmm, we say.
Second, Aurica says that the E-car will cost between $40,000 and $50,000. That seems like a high price tag for a brand new, no-name EV manufacturer without a front man like, say, Elon Musk -- especially a brand new, no-name EV manufacturer without a front man like Elon Musk, that's trying to employ 4,700 workers. (For reference, Tesla Motors keeps just north of 500 employees.) Pitagora says that it's hoping to make use of green car economic stimulus funds from the federal government to finance the project, but we all know how dicey that can be.
Third, this is a major project, requiring not only massive financing from sources other than the DOE, but also approval from Toyota, Motors Liquidation Co. (aka "Bad GM"), and likely the UAW. It'll be a long, slow, haul.
Of course, we'd love to be proven wrong on this one. NUMMI is important to the auto industry, to California, and to thousands of working families. And of course, EVs are exciting stuff. But we're not holding our breath.