By Dennis Seid and Carlie Kollath Wells/NEMS Daily Journal
BLUE SPRINGS – Toyota this week is celebrating the first anniversary of Corolla production in Mississippi.
The Blue Springs plant isn’t open to the public, but Toyota officials gave the Daily Journal an exclusive tour Tuesday.
The festivities continue today with a media tour, and the plant will have a family day Saturday for dependents of team members.
The events this week are the first time since last November that Toyota has allowed multiple media outlets inside the plant.
Here are some of the highlights gleaned from Tuesday’s tour of the plant.
THE COLOR OF MONEY
The 100,000th Toyota Corolla that Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi produced on Oct. 9 was red – Barcelona red, to be exact.
Other colors are super white, classic silver, black sand pearl (charcoal)
MOVING FORWARD AGAIN
Toyota’s advertising slogan the past few years has been “Moving Forward,” but the automaker is moving on with a new campaign Dec. 31.
The new tagline, “Let’s Go Places,” was unveiled last month “reflecting the company’s commitment to more exciting products and the promise that customers are invited to take part in shaping Toyota’s future,” Toyota said.
Toyota committed to hiring locally and has done so, according to Toyota Mississippi Vice President of Administration David Copenhaver.
He said 90 percent of the plant’s 2,000 employees are from Mississippi, with 80 percent of the workforce hired within a 60-mile radius of the plant.
WHAT TO WEAR
Toyota’s team members have a uniform that varies based on where they work inside the plant. Everyone is required to wear steel-toed shoes and eye protection if they are in the work area.
Assembly line employees can’t have any exposed metal or jewelry. Even metal button and zippers on pants must be covered because they can damage the vehicles.
Long hair must be in a ponytail or tucked inside a Toyota cap or hairnet. Other workers have hard hats or additional hair nets, based on where they work.
And, of course, everyone must wear a monogrammed Toyota shirt.
Each area of the plant – stamping, weld, paint, assembly – has a special training area employees go to called dojos.
Martial arts practitioners – specifically Japanese and Okinawan styles – also call the room or areas in which they practice dojos.
But, Copenhaver assures, there are no throwing, punching or kicking demonstrations taking place at the Toyota dojos.
Building cars can be physically demanding. While it’s not necessary to bench 300 pounds or run a marathon, keeping in relatively good physical shape does make the job easier.
So, Toyota makes available to its employees a staffed and fully equipped fitness center at the Blue Springs plant. Treadmills, elliptical machines, stationary bikes and weightlifting equipment fill the training area.
Team members are encouraged to warm up and cool down by taking the stairs to the gym.
WHERE TO EAT
Team members get a 45-minute break for lunch, along with shorter breaks throughout their shifts. Many team members bring their own lunch and eat in their group’s break area. But the plant does have a cafeteria.
Kevin Burgess of TMMMS said the cafeteria is open for breakfast and lunch. It has a salad bar, a daily plate lunch special and a grill area where team members can order items like hamburgers and quesadillas.
He said Toyota’s Texas plant has a sushi bar and a taco bar, but the Mississippi plant sticks with standard American fare.
The offerings in the snack machines are pretty standard as well – bear claws, Baked Lay’s, barbecue pork rinds, dill pickle potato chips, Loaded Bacon & Cheddar Ruffles, Pop-Tarts and various candy bars.
The Mississippi plant uses computer-controlled carts to move axles, instrument panels, bumpers and engines to the assembly line. The automated guided vehicles run along magnetic paths, which are indicated on the floor with orange tape.
The AGVs all play a repetitive musical tune to make team members aware of their approach.
Before each car leaves the factory, it must go through quality control checks. It goes through more than 375 checks on the final line, including visual checks of the exterior paint and internal checks of audio equipment, safety restraints, headlights and horn function.
Every shop in the factory has a representative working in quality control to check the vehicles, according to Mike Durham, assistant manager of quality control.
The team members also initialize sensors by doing two 90 degree turns in the car. Plus, they align the headlights and the front end.
They also bring each car up to 85 mph by spinning its tires and then they check the engine and drive train for functionality.
Each vehicle also goes through a high-intensity, 60-second shower to check for water leaks. Then airbags are installed before the car is sold to Toyota Logistics and sent to the marshaling yard, where it begins its journey to dealerships.
Toyota’s investment in the Blue Springs facility is $800 million. Last year, Toyota invested $1.5 billion in North America, including the Toyota Mississippi amount, and created 3,500 jobs.
The Japanese automaker has invested $24 billion in the U.S. since 1993 and directly employs 38,000 people.
MADE (MOSTLY) IN AMERICA
Seventy percent of the Toyota vehicles sold in the U.S. are made in the country. Fourteen models are built in the U.S., including the Avalon, Camry, Corolla, Highlander, Tundra and Sienna.