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Convis: GM-Renault Impact on NUMMI Unlikely; Toyota Learning From Subaru

Toyota is intrigued by some of the automation at the Subaru Indiana assembly plant, the U.S. executive says.

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – An alliance between General Motors Corp., Renault SA and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. likely would not impact GM’s joint venture plant with Toyota Motor Corp., a Toyota official says.

“I don’t know (whether) it would have any immediate issue one way or another with NUMMI – I can’t imagine it would,” Gary Convis, executive vice president-Toyota Motor Engineering and Mfg. North America, tells reporters at the recent Management Briefing Seminars here. “We build a great product for them.”

The New United Motor Mfg. Inc. plant in Fremont, CA, is a 50/50 JV between GM and Toyota. Established in 1984, NUMMI has an annual capacity for 370,000 units. It currently produces the Pontiac Vibe hatchback, Toyota Corolla compact sedan and Toyota Tacoma compact pickup.

“I don’t really have any comments on the issue with Renault and GM and Nissan,” Convis says. “It’s being analyzed by the right people and we’re not involved with it.”

The insight gained at NUMMI has been beneficial for GM, he says, as the auto maker has had a chance to study the legendary Toyota Production System “for many years, and learned a great deal from hands-on living it (by) being involved in NUMMI.”

GM and Renault-Nissan agreed last month to conduct a 90-day investigation into a possible alliance.

Meanwhile, Convis says, while in the early stages, the process of adding Toyota Camry sedans at Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd.’s Subaru of Indiana Automotive plant already is proving interesting.

“We haven’t been involved with them too long, but (SIA), for instance, puts doors on the vehicle in the body shop with automation – totally automated (and) it’s pretty high-level,” he says of the Indiana plant, which builds the Subaru Legacy, Outback and B9 Tribeca models, and is due to add capacity for 100,000 Camry cars next spring on a dedicated line.

“We look at that and say, ‘It’s (a) pretty good (way of doing things),’” Convis says of the door attachment process, adding that SIA’s paint booths are fully automated, as well.

Last October, following GM’s sale of its 20% stake in Fuji Heavy, Toyota purchased an 8.7% share in the auto maker, renowned for its horizontally opposed engines and lithium-ion battery technology.

The SIA plant is just one of three vehicle assembly plants Toyota is starting up in North America.

Later this year, Toyota will open a new truck plant in San Antonio that will build the next-generation Tundra fullsize pickup.

Then, in 2008, a new Canadian plant in Woodstock, Ont., will come online, producing the Toyota RAV4 small cross/utility vehicle for the first time in North America.

“We would like to be earlier,” Convis says of the anticipated Woodstock startup, which will have the capacity to build 150,000 RAV4s annually.

However, he points out Toyota’s rapid growth, not only in North America but globally, is putting a strain on its resources.

“It’s just a matter of workload and what we can accomplish,” Convis says. “A lot of the equipment makers can only build so much so fast,” he says of the companies that supply stamping presses and dies and other tooling to all of Toyota’s manufacturing plants around the world.

Convis says Woodstock has been progressing though, noting ground has been broken and the plant’s different shops have been laid out and designed.

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