Production slowed, not stopped

By Dennis Seid
Daily Journal
While more suppliers for the Toyota Mississippi plant in Blue Springs will be named, communities hoping to land one will have to wait a little longer.
Because Toyota announced in December that it was postponing indefinitely the opening of its $1.3 billion assembly plant in Union County, suppliers, too, have been put on hold.
Dennis Cuneo, a former senior vice president for Toyota who advised the Japanese automaker’s site selection team that chose Blue Springs, said suppliers are “in a holding pattern until they hear from Toyota.”
Seven companies have announced they would supply Toyota Mississippi, all but one located in the state. The suppliers represent about 1,900 jobs and $385 million in investment.
The main Toyota plant is expected to employ about 2,000.
Cuneo, who remains an adviser for the Toyota Group of companies and has help land two suppliers in Northeast Mississippi (Auto Parts Manufacturing Mississippi in Baldwyn and Toyota Boshoku near Fulton), said Toyota isn’t going to back away from its plans to build the Prius hybrid vehicle in Blue Springs.
At a forum at Itawamba Community College this week, Cuneo shot down talk that Toyota was rethinking its plans.
“The rumor that Toyota is trying to renegotiate its deal — there’s no truth to it at all,” said Cuneo. “Toyota has delayed the project to conserve cash; all companies are in that mode right now as the economy deteriorates.”
Toyota has already invested $300 million in the Blue Springs plant, which was to begin production of the Prius in late 2010
Dave Copenhaver, vice president of administration for Toyota Mississippi, said plant construction should be complete by May or June. After that, it’s up to Toyota to determine when to order and install the production equipment and to hire and train workers.
The company hasn’t said when that will happen, but some auto industry experts suggest that the plant won’t open until late 2011 or 2012 at the earliest.
Said Copenhaver, “it’s not a matter of if, but when.”

Dennis Seid