Toyota plant 'a matter of when' – but when's that?

In an interview with reporters in Washington on Monday, Toyota’s top executive in North America said the Japanese automaker was no longer profitable here and that it was reviewing its entire North American operations.
According to The Detroit News, Yoshimi Inaba, president and chief operating officer of Toyota Motor America and chairman and CEO of Toyota Motor Sales USA, said Toyota also was looking at the future of its idled Blue Springs plant.
The plant, which was to begin building the Prius hybrid vehicle late next year, was put on hold indefinitely in December.
Inaba also said plans to build the Prius there remain unclear.
Other recent reports, quoting other Toyota officials, have suggested Toyota may be considering either building another vehicle in Blue Springs or building the Prius in California.
But Inaba said that the California plant, which it runs as a joint venture with General Motors, also is under review.
As for Toyota’ Blue Springs plant, Toyota officials have insisted that their intention is to build the Prius there.
The phrase most often used by Northeast Mississippi leaders is “it’s a matter of when, not if.”
But when exactly is “when?”
Seemingly conflicting reports and comments from Toyota don’t help.
According to The Detroit News, when asked if Toyota might shelve the plant, Inaba said, “I’m not that pessimistic” about the future of the facility. But he also said that it wasn’t clear if Toyota would wait until the fourth-generation Prius to start production in the U.S.
If that’s the case, Northeast Mississippi may have to wait a little longer.
The first-generation Prius was launched in Japan in 1997 and introduced in the U.S. in 2001. The second-generation Prius was launched in 2003 as a 2004 model. The third-generation Prius was rolled out six months ago as a 2010 model.
Given that most automakers relaunch models every four to six years, under that scenario it could be as late as 2015 before the Blue Springs plant is in operation.
Lacy Luckett, the spokeswoman for Toyota Mississippi, said Tuesday that as far as she knows, Toyota hasn’t made any changes.
And even U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., offered his thoughts via radio on SuperTalk Mississippi on Tuesday.
“The truth of the matter is Toyota is being very prudent,” he said. “They are a very sound business and have great leadership. They went ahead – even in an economic downturn – and decided to complete this Blue Springs plant near Tupelo.
“I don’t think they would have expended those millions and millions of dollars if they didn’t intend to open it. And I think they will. At some point the talk will be over and the economy will turn and I think when that happens we will be making Toyotas in Mississippi.”

Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal

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