DENNIS SEID: Wellspring project seems to be right fit for Toyota

It's no secret that Toyota Motor Corp. is looking into building two more North American assembly plants by the end of the decade. But North America could be anywhere – the U.S., Canada, even Mexico.

It's no secret that Toyota Motor Corp. is looking into building two more North American assembly plants by the end of the decade. But North America could be anywhere – the U.S., Canada, even Mexico.

According to Nikkan Kogyo Shimbun, a Tokyo newspaper, Toyota is looking into building one plant north of its existing operation in Cambridge, outside of Toronto.

Of course, we want Toyota to stay in the states, particularly here in Mississippi. If Toyota plans on having two plants, then we want one of them in our backyard.

Toyota is no doubt expecting some kouguu, Japanese for “cordial welcome, kind treatment.” We should oblige. I've seen it happen before.

Three years ago, in Jackson, Tenn., Toyota was looking at a 600-acre site near the airport. Company officials toured the site, as well as locations in Arkansas, Alabama and San Antonio, for a state-of-the-art truck manufacturing plant.

While the $800 billion truck facility went to San Antonio, Jackson would be “rewarded” a few months later.

Toyota returned to Jackson because one of its wholly subsidiaries, Bodine Aluminum, was seeking to expand its operations. St. Louis-based Bodine manufactures aluminum engine blocks for its parent company.

Having visited the Jackson site several times, Toyota selected it for its new $124 million Bodine plant, which will work its way to 200 employees. That plant is scheduled to open later this year.

Yasuhiti Yamauchi, Toyota's senior managing director, said the engine blocks made in Jackson would be “the heart and soul” of Toyota engines.

Right place, right time?

Jackson is about 105 miles from Tupelo. Toyota said it wants the Bodine plant to eventually supply all of its car and assembly plants in North America.

So what better location for a plant than the Wellspring Project site at the crossroads of Pontotoc, Lee and Union counties?

Toyota expects to increase its worldwide sales to 8.03 million this year, including 2.15 million in the U.S. Two years ago, Toyota said it would have the annual capacity to build more than 1.66 million cars and trucks and 1.3 million engines in North America.

“In order to sell more vehicles in North America, we will manufacture them in North America,” Yamauchi said in Jackson.

Toyota president Fujio Cho, who is stepping up to vice chairman of the company, said recently the company will start producing its hybrid car models in the U.S. in 2006. He also said Toyota will increase the rate of local production in North America from 60 to 75 percent but did not elaborate.

And he said Toyota would look into the feasibility of building another North American factory after studying this year's sales.

So, let's hope Toyota comes looking at the Wellspring site. With SteelCorr likely landing south in Columbus, and with the Bodine plant to the north in Jackson, Tenn., we are in a very, very good position.

Perhaps soon enough, we can say “domo arrigato, Toyota” – thank you very much, Toyota.

Dennis Seid is business editor for the Daily Journal. Reach him at 678-1578 or dennis.seid@djournal.com