Toyota: Still no timetable for Blue Springs

By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal

Eventually, one of the reports about Toyota opening its idled Blue Springs plant may be confirmed.
But for now, Toyota officials are downplaying another Japanese newspaper’s report that the automaker will begin production at the plant next year.
On Sunday, the Tokyo Shimbun said Toyota will open the facility in June 2011. In December, the Japanese business daily Nikkei said Toyota would resume work at the plant, without giving a date.
Neither story quoted Toyota officials.
And on Monday, Barbara McDaniel, a spokeswoman for Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America Inc., said the Tokyo Shimbun report, like the earlier Nikkei report, was premature.
“Nothing official has been determined,” she said. “Consistent with what we’ve been saying, when market conditions allow, there will be an announced decision on start-up for Blue Springs.”
A spokeswoman for the Mississippi Development Authority echoed McDaniel.
Plans for the Blue Springs operation have been on hold since Toyota announced in December 2008 that it would delay its opening until the economy improved.
In December, reacting to the Nikkei report that also said that Toyota planned to build the Corolla sedan instead of the Prius Hybrid in Blue Springs, McDaniel said that “we remain committed to the Mississippi project and continue to monitor market conditions and study options.”
The Corolla and Prius are built on the same vehicle platform.
Rumors have swirled that Toyota Mississippi could be in line to build one or both of the vehicles. The Corolla is built at the New United Motor Manufacturing plant in Fremont, Calif., in a facility that Toyota once operated with General Motors.
But after filing for bankruptcy protection last year, GM pulled out of the joint venture. Toyota said it could not operate the plant alone and plans to shut it down on March 31.
That has led to speculation that Toyota would announce afterward that it would shift some of its Corolla production to Blue Springs before starting production of the Prius. However, a Toyota plant in Canada also produces the Corolla.
But with Toyota’s recent troubles – the company has recalled more than 8 million vehicles worldwide – some automotive experts say Toyota isn’t in any condition to expand its capacity, particularly since company president Akio Toyoda said Toyota had grown too fast in recent years.
Last week, Gov. Haley Barbour said he had no doubt that Toyota would eventually open the Blue Springs plant. In fact, he said Toyota would open it “sooner than people think” but added that he had no inside knowledge to support the claim.
“Not because I have inside information, but I look at what’s happening in the market, I look at what’s happening with the dollar, I look at the closure of the plant in California that they operated with General Motors,” he said. “I take all those things and in my own mind it says to me something happening here is sooner rather than later, though I’m not saying it’s gonna be tomorrow.”
The Tokyo Shimbun report also said that state officials had pressed Toyota to open the plant soon.
Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@djournal.com.