Toyota mum on expansion plans at TMMMS

By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal

BLUE SPRINGS – It’s long been rumored, but never confirmed, that Toyota will expand its Mississippi plant eventually.
Last week, Automotive News, in a story reviewing the Japanese automaker’s future model lineup, said its popular Prius hybrid sedan will be built here in 2014 for the 2015 model year.
But Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi spokeswoman Emily Holland tempered those hopes, at least for now.
“We would be delighted to have Prius production in Blue Springs, but there are currently no plans to build that vehicle in our facility,” she said.
The two-million-square-foot automotive assembly plant opened last October, and it builds the Corolla sedan.
When Toyota announced in early 2007 it was building the plant, officials said the Highlander SUV would be produced. In mid-2008, the company said it would build the Prius instead. After an 18-month delay brought on by the recession, Toyota announced in June 2010 it would build the Corolla.
Even before construction was started, state and local officials speculated the Japanese automaker would build more than one vehicle model at the plant. Noting that Toyota has expanded every one of its other manufacturing plants, they said TMMMS would be no different.
Automotive News, and other industry sources, have said the plant would be a good fit for the Prius.
In its story last week, the magazine said, “because it shares much of its chassis with the Corolla, the next-generation Prius could be assembled at Toyota’s new plant in Mississippi where Corollas are built.”
The Prius is built mostly in Japan, even though its largest market is the U.S. The strength of the yen versus the dollar cuts into Toyota’s profit margin, and industry analysts have said the hybrid car’s production will be headed to the U.S. eventually.
The Japanese Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper in June said Toyota would start production of the Prius in the U.S., “around 2015,” but did not say where.
“The Japanese automaker will also locally produce such key automotive parts as motors for the new Prius model,” the paper said.
Toyota sold about 139,000 Prius in North America last year.
Hybridcars.com also reported in April that Toyota officials were mulling North American production.
“We are targeting 2015,” said Koei Saga, Toyota’s senior managing officer in charge of drivetrain research and development. “Around then we will probably introduce the next-generation Prius, so we are trying our hardest to realize local production of hybrid units then.”
Saga told Automotive News at the Beijing automotive show Toyota also is “scouting out North American suppliers for batteries, inverters and electric motors.”