It's just about time for Toyota to build an assembly plant in Michigan.
Don't laugh -- the stars are almost aligned.
Conventional wisdom says Toyota and other overseas manufacturers steer their factories clear of the industrial Midwest to avoid being organized by the UAW. That may be true but, as Paul Harvey says, there's more to the story.
Toyota has a good working relationship with the UAW at New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. in Fremont, Calif., and reached an agreement with the union in August that is more collaborative than those in force at General Motors, Ford, DaimlerChrysler -- and Delphi Corp. What happens in the UAW/Delphi bankruptcy negotiations sets the stage for the Big 3 and will be a big factor as Toyota considers bringing a plant to Michigan.
It's not the final wage rate or benefit package Toyota will watch; it's how the two sides negotiate. Right now, that's not a pretty picture. If it improves, the union might be able to organize a Toyota plant in Michigan. If it means adding members in tough times, why couldn't the union reach an accommodation with Toyota that might set a pattern of realistic benefits for other automakers?
But the UAW might not even be a factor.
Some areas of northern and western Michigan aren't under the UAW's sway, so the union could have a tough time organizing workers, especially since the Delphi bankruptcy shows the union no longer is able to protect jobs and benefits.
A couple of political considerations also make a deal possible.
A factory in Michigan would broaden Toyota's geographic base, economically and politically. Putting a factory in Michigan, especially if it builds high-tech vehicles such as gasoline-electric hybrids, would win political friends for Toyota and mute some of the criticism that Toyota is growing while GM and Ford are struggling.
Just a year away from a re-election bid, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm is burdened with a struggling economy, which was losing manufacturing jobs long before Delphi ran for the cover of Chapter 11. So you can bet the state would be innovative with inducements, as it was when it persuaded Toyota to put a technical center in Ann Arbor.
The bottom line: Michigan needs a Toyota factory, and Toyota needs Michigan. The only thing left is to figure out where to put the plant.
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at