Toyota ponders Blue Springs operations

Toyota’s top U.S. executive said Monday that the Japanese automaker has not made any decisions about the future of its idled plant in Blue Springs.
Yoshi Inaba, president of Toyota Motor North America and chairman of Toyota Motor Sales USA, also said the company will make a decision “as quickly as possible” on the fate of its California joint venture plant with General Motors as it evaluates the chaotic U.S. auto market.
Inaba said Toyota was carefully evaluating its options for the Fremont, Calif., plant, called New United Motor Manufacturing Inc.
Inaba, who recently returned to Toyota Motor Corp. as part of a management shake-up, said the company could dissolve the California plant or keep it running, but the decisions were tied to a larger evaluation of the company’s U.S. capacity and how quickly auto sales will rebound.
The Mississippi plant was scheduled to begin production of the Prius hybrid in late 2010, but that plan is on hold because of poor U.S. market conditions. Inaba said Toyota was trying to decide how the Mississippi operation would fit into its overall North American production plans.
“We are eagerly looking forward to the market coming back quickly so that we will know the direction we are heading so we can make the right decision,” he said.
Inaba said he expected Prius to eventually be built in the United States, but Toyota was evaluating the types of hybrid component parts that would be needed if the Prius were built here.
Recent reports suggested Toyota was thinking about building the Prius at the NUMMI plant, but officials said that Toyota was still committed to building the vehicle at Blue Springs.
Toyota has invested more than $300 million in the plant, which the automaker in 2007 said it planned to invest about $1.3 billion and employ about 2,000 workers.
Several suppliers who set up operations in Mississippi have also put their plans on hold. At least one company, Auto Parts Manufacturing Mississippi, offered buyouts to most of its 16 employees last month.
Sales in U.S. down
Toyota’s U.S. sales have declined about 38 percent in 2009 under the strain of the economic downturn. Toyota lost $4.4 billion in the fiscal year that ended in March, its worst loss ever.
General Motors is ending its joint venture with Toyota as part of its downsizing under bankruptcy. The NUMMI plant, established in 1984, employs 4,600 workers and currently makes the Pontiac Vibe station wagon for GM and the Corolla compact car and Tacoma pickup truck for Toyota.
Inaba called the California plant “a little more time-pressing issue. We just can’t let it go as it is for a long time. I think we have to make a decision as quickly as possible.” He said Toyota was studying whether it could be economically viable in the future and considering factors such as the company’s idle factory space, labor and image.
“For us, California as a state is our biggest market, so we have take into consideration the negative impact it may give to the minds of Californians,” he said. California lawmakers have held discussions with the company about ways of keeping the plant open.

Other stories:

Click here for Bloomberg News: Inaba said he is hopeful the Mississippi plant doesn’t have to be shelved permanently.

Click here for Detroit Free-Press: Inaba said that included possibly not opening the Mississippi plan.

Staff and wire reports