Nova: GM’s UAW-built Japanese car made in California

Bowtie in front, Japanese guts

Chevy bow tie up front, Toyota parts everywhere else

Let’s give an almost-Labor Day shout out to the UAW members who worked at NUMMI in Freemont, California between 1984 and 2010.  New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. was a joint venture of GM and Toyota on the site on an old GM plant.  The idea was for GM to learn the ways of Japanese manufacturing efficiencies and for Toyota to put together pick ups without having to pay the famous “chicken tax” on imported trucks.

A Corolla by any other name..

A Corolla by any other name..

GM revived the Nova name for its badge-engineered version of Toyota’s home market Sprinter, which was, essentially, a Corolla variant.  From 1985 to 1988 Americans could buy a Chevrolet that was designed by Toyota and built in California by 4,700 UAW workers.

Profilin' but not stylin'

Profilin’ but not stylin’

It’s axiomatic that cars that were expensive to begin with have more longevity than those that were cheap to buy in the first place.  We’re guessing that a combination of factors contribute to this phenomenon.  A cheap car is usually not cherished as an indicator of success; if anything, it’s a marker of disappointment to those for whom upward mobility is only theoretical.  With this notion in mind we found it surprising to come across quite a number of superannuated NUMMI-built Novas in recent days.

Toyota guts!

Union made

While they’re dull as dishwater, lacking that “wow factor” in just about every regard, we salute these survivors of a noble experiment.

Alternate spelling of "Corolla"

Alternate spelling of “Corolla”

In some ways, that experiment continues. After the plant closed following the dissolution of the GM-Toyota joint venture, it was acquired by Tesla Motors and was gutted, rebuilt and renamed ‘The Tesla Factory,’ and is where every all-electric Tesla Model S is built with the aid of the most advanced robotics in the business..  While GM and Toyota produced nearly 8 million cars and trucks over that span of 25 years, Tesla projects it will have produced 100,000 cars by the end of the year.  The question remains if we’ll spot any Teslas a quarter century from now and write do post about them for Robot Day 2045.

Newly registered!

Newly registered!

“Absolutely right!” was Nova’s introductory slogan as seen in this commercial from ’85.  Nice perm, too.


Yes, it reclines, just like in the Toyota version.

Novas from this generation, unlike their US-designed predecessors which are likely to have been turned into hot rods, were far from aspirational objects at the time of introduction. For the most part, that still holds true but we kind of think that this not-so-perfect ’88 Nova offered on Ebay Motors for a mind-blowing $1000 buy-it-now price is worthy of consideration.

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Note: While we strive for factual accuracy in our posts, we readily acknowledge that we we sometimes make inadvertent mistakes.  If you happen to catch one please don’t sit there and fume; let us know where we went wrong and we’ll do our best to correct things.




One thought on “Nova: GM’s UAW-built Japanese car made in California

  1. Ben Edge

    “He went outside, but there were cops all over. He dipped into a car – a stolen Nova.” (@ 1:52)


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