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NUMMI's lesson? This is how we do it

Watching Toyota go through the painful exercise of closing its auto plant in Fremont, Calif., and laying off 4,700 workers meticulously trained in the Toyota Production System, you can't help but ask: What was that all about, anyway?

NUMMI -- New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. -- lasted 26 years and turned out more than 7.5 million cars and pickups as a 50-50 joint venture between Toyota and General Motors.

Toyota was supposed to learn things from NUMMI. It surely discovered how GM operates, at least in California.

GM walked out on the marriage last year, leaving Toyota to pay $280 million in employee severance. Toyota began shutting the place down last week for an April 1 closing.

Last year was the second time GM had abandoned the Fremont plant. It was the third time GM had abandoned locations on the San Francisco Bay. It was the fifth time GM had walked away from a California auto plant.

Did Toyota honestly ever need GM to teach it how to run an American plant?

Probably not.

Still, Toyota walks away having learned one valuable lesson: The American auto business can be downright brutal.

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