Toyota Recall Affects GM's Pontiac Vibe: Part I

August 30, 2010

Toyota recently announced a voluntary recall of 1.1 million Corolla and Matrix models. Model years affected were 2005 through 2008. 160 complaints relating stalling and rough shifting initiated the recall. However, there is another aspect to the recall that most Americans are not aware of: 160,000 Pontiac Vibes are also being recalled.

How did a discontinued Pontiac model become involved in a Toyota recall? The underlying story--and answer to this question--is about the relationship between Toyota and General Motors and the fact that the Pontiac Vibe is the result of these two automotive companies coming together in a joint venture where each could learn and benefit from the other.

A Joint Venture
When I was Internet Manager for a major car dealer, I often noticed surprised looks on my customer’s faces when I told them that the pre-owned Pontiac Vibe they were interested in was a mechanical twin of the Toyota Matrix. “Did you know that the Vibe is more Toyota than Pontiac,” I frequently asked? The blank stares of incomprehension seemed to result from the assumption that there is animosity within the competitive drive that propels these automotive giants.

The two companies came together in a joint venture back in 1984. They took over an old General Motors assembly plant in Fremont, CA and created a new company: New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc., known as NUMMI for short. They not only manufactured vehicles that were sold under both brand names, but in the case of the Pontiac Vibe, worked together to produce a vehicle together.

This was not sleeping with a corporate enemy. On the contrary, it was building corporate relationships.  Back in the mid-80s, GM was desperate to learn lean manufacturing methods from this up and coming Japanese manufacturer. Toyota was interested in establishing its first manufacturing base in North America. It was also an opportunity for Toyota to implement its production system in a U.S. working environment.

Tomorrow we look at the how this working relationship with these two major car makers progressed.

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