DENNIS SEID: Long wait for Toyota almost over for region

By Dennis Seid | NEMS Daily Journal

Sometime in November, Northeast Mississippi will be feted in a special ceremony at Toyota’s plant in Blue Springs, marking its official opening.
Officials from Toyota will join state and local honchos to celebrate the first public rollout of the Corolla.
They’ll talk about the workers who helped made it happen, they’ll slap each other on the back, they’ll sing the praises of everyone who helped kickstart the automotive era in Northeast Mississippi.
And it’s been a long wait since Feb. 27, 2007, when the Japanese automaker first announced it was building a $1.3 billion assembly plant here.
There have been some bumps along the road – the changes in models, the temporary delay in the opening, the recession – that stretched the project longer than anticipated.
Last year, when Toyota was having to deal with massive recalls, there were some fears that the Blue Springs plant would be delayed further.
But that didn’t happen. When Toyota announced 15 months ago it was restarting operations, officials said they would work aggressively to get Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi up and running.
And that day is finally happening: Mississippi-made Toyotas are here.
Last month, Toyota closed the application process for hourly production workers. It has more than 1,200 team members on board, and should have some 1,500 by year’s end.
Toyota Mississippi workers – many of whom are our friends, family and neighbors – have been putting together test vehicles. And they’re making the real thing.
The Corolla, with more than 35 million sold, is the world’s top-selling vehicle.
In the competitive U.S. market, it’s still holding its own. In September, 16,147 were sold. For the first nine months of the year, 186,891 have been sold. That’s down 11 percent from the same period a year ago, but Toyota sales are down overall. Much of that has to do with the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March that stalled production for several months.
Still, sales in the U.S. of the Corolla will top 200,000 again this year.
That’s good, because that means Toyota Mississippi will be busy.
When the plant is fully operational – which means it’s cranking out cars at optimum levels – some 150,000 vehicles can be produced a year.
Before long, the next-generation Corolla will be built here, hopefully paving the way for record sales.
Because if that’s the case, Toyota will have to expand capacity to meet demand.
We’ve all heard about the “second-phase” possibilities at Blue Springs, where Toyota supposedly can build a mirror-image of the plant.
It makes for grand speculation, but let’s get the first plant established before we start dreaming, shall we?
Until then, get ready for the big celebration.
Toyota and Northeast Mississippi. Moving forward together.
That has a nice sound to it, wouldn’t you agree?
Contact business editor Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@journalinc.com.