UPDATE: Toyota to resume Blue Springs work

By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal

Toyota is resuming work at its Blue Springs plant, with production beginning in the fall of 2011.
And when production does begin at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi – the official name of the plant – the facility will be rolling out the company’s popular Corolla sedan.
An official celebration with Toyota, state and local officials is scheduled at the plant at 1:30 today.
David Copenhaver, TMMMS’ vice president of administration, said the go-ahead for the project, approved by Toyota Motor Corp.’s board of directors this morning in Tokyo, allows production to begin in Mississippi sooner rather than later.
The plant was to begin production of the Prius hybrid later this year, until Toyota suspended work at the plant in December 2008 because of souring economic conditions.
“A decision still hasn’t been made on the Prius, and this allows us to open the plant as quickly as possible,” he said. “It also fulfills Toyota’s promise to bring Corolla production back to North America when it was possible.”
The Prius, the world’s best-selling hybrid, is made mostly in Japan and exported.
The Corolla is manufactured across the globe, but most of its North American production was based out of the New United Motor Manufacturing plant in Fremont, Calif., a facility Toyota co-owned with General Motors. But when GM filed for bankruptcy protection last year, it exited its NUMMI partnership. Toyota said it could not run the plant alone and closed it on April 1.
The Corolla is the best selling car line in the world, with more than 33 million in sales since its introduction in 1966.
Last year, it was the fourth-best selling vehicle in the U.S. with nearly 300,000 in sales, trailing only the Chevy Silverado, Toyota Camry and Ford F-Series trucks.
Capacity at TMMMS will be 150,000 vehicles, Copenhaver said. Employment will eventually reach about 2,000 workers, with hiring to begin by this fall.
Several top Toyota officials are expected join Gov. Haley Barbour at today’s announcement at the plant, including Yoshimi Inaba, president and chief operating officer of Toyota Motor North America.
“Toyota appreciates the patience of Gov. Barbour and all Mississippians, but we first needed to fully utilize our existing facilities as the economy slowed,” Inaba said. “Now it’s time to fulfill Toyota’s promise in Mississippi. Toyota remains committed to making vehicles where we sell them and to maintaining a substantial manufacturing presence in North America.”
Toyota mothballed TMMMS in late 2008 due to the economic downturn, with officials insisting that the facility would open once market conditions improved.
Originally, production at TMMMS, as the plant is called, was to begin in late 2009 with the Highlander sport utility vehicle rolling off the line.
In July 2008, Toyota announced as part of a restructuring in its North American manufacturing operations that TMMMS would build the popular Prius hybrid instead, starting later this year.
But the global recession that hammered the world economy also battered automobile sales, and the automaker in December 2008 said it would indefinitely suspend work at the plant.
Japanese newspapers in recent months have said that Toyota would build the Corolla in Blue Springs.
In December, the Japanese business daily Nikkei said the automaker would resume work at the plant and would build the Corolla. A Tokyo Shimbun report in March said the plant would open next June and would build the Corolla.
Toyota officials said those reports were premature.

Click here for today’s Daily Journal story about announcement.

Watch for coverage here all day and in the NEMS Daily Journal newspaper Friday.