Almost a year after announcing that it was delaying the opening of its Blue Springs plant indefinitely, Toyota on Friday appeared to be moving toward putting the plant back on track.
At least that was according to Reuters, which cited the Japanese business daily Nikkei reporting that the automaker plans to resume construction of its Blue Springs plant, as well as factories in China.
But Toyota officials in the U.S. were quick in denying the report.
“Nothing has changed,” said Barbara McDaniel, external affairs manager for Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, or TEMA. “Our comment is that nothing has been decided. We remain committed to the Mississippi project and continue to monitor market conditions and study options.”
TEMA oversees manufacturing operations in North America.
In December 2008, amid a deepening recession and slumping global auto sales, Toyota said it was suspending indefinitely the completion of the Blue Springs plant.
The Japanese automaker has invested more than $300 million of a projected $1.3 billion into the facility.
Two months ago, McDaniel, along with Toyota Mississippi Vice President David Copenhaver, said the automaker had not changed its plans to eventually start production in Blue Springs.
They said because long-term prospects of economic recovery were unclear, Toyota had made no decision on when to resume operations at the plant, which is all but complete.
McDaniel’s comment on Friday appear to reinforce that notion.
And a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Development Authority on Friday said that Toyota has assured them that the state would be informed of any such news.
“We haven’t heard anything different,” said Melissa Medley.
According to Nikkei, which did not cite any sources, Toyota will spend more than $1.1 billion to finish construction at Blue Springs and at plant in China. The move will help Toyota meet growing demand in China and reduce the impact of the yen.
A weak dollar and strong yen cuts into profits for the automaker.
The Nikkei also reported that Toyota would build the Corolla sedan in Blue Springs and later build the Prius.
The Corolla is now built at a plant in Fremont, Calif., that it co-owns with General Motors. But after GM filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, it said it was pulling out of the joint venture. Toyota said it had no interest in buying GM’s plant and would shut down its operations there by March.
Coincidentally, the Prius is built on the same vehicle platform as the Corolla. Currently, all Prius are built in Japan and a smaller plant in China. With the U.S. serving as Toyota’s biggest market, auto analysts have said it makes sense for the company to want to eventually build here to reduce the foreign-exchange impact.
Partly because of that impact, Toyota is expected to post a second straight year of losses this year.
Switching Blue Springs production to Corolla wouldn’t be anything new for the plant.
Toyota announced in February 2007 that it would build the Highlander SUV. In July 2008, Toyota announced an overhaul of its North American manufacturing operations and said the factory would build the popular Prius hybrid vehicle instead.
Mississippi officials have said that they have no doubt that Toyota will build something in Blue Springs.
Randy Kelley, executive director of Three Rivers Plannning and Development District in Pontotoc, which played an integral part in helping recruit Toyota, said nothing has changed his mind.
“What we’re reading and hearing is speculation at this point, and until we hear 100 percent from Toyota, it’s still only speculation,” he said. “It’s exciting speculation, but that’s all it is. We’re still very hopeful about the future of Toyota.”
Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal