Northeast Mississippi’s hopes for a benchmark Toyota auto assembly plant in full production haven’t been dashed, but the final decision about the Blue Springs plant clearly depends on how Toyota’s executive leadership decides to make the company’s North American operations profitable again for the long term.
Toyota suffered its first-ever loss in 2008, and its sales in North America are down 38 percent from a year ago.
However, new leadership at the top in North America and Japan is in the process of deciding how best to turn things around and deal with the worst auto market in decades.
In Northeast Mississippi, a virtually complete plant structure lacking manufacturing equipment dominates the landscape south of the U.S. 78/Mississippi 9 interchange at Blue Springs, 11 miles northwest of Tupelo.
The company has spent about $300 million building the gleaming white shell of the structure on the PUL Alliance’s Wellspring Megasite. Pontotoc, Union and Lee counties formed the alliance, purchased the site and developed a plan to recruit an auto assembly plant or its manufacturing equivalent.
The plan worked, but that was before the worldwide recession dealt a severe blow to the American economy and auto sales in particular.
The high-mileage Prius hybrid, whose third generation recently was introduced, was scheduled for production at the Blue Springs plant as sales soared on the strength of rising gasoline prices. Then the recession hit, gasoline prices fell, and new car sales in the American market plunged for virtually all manufacturers, including Toyota.
In late 2008, production in Blue Springs was indefinitely postponed.
However, cautious optimism can be seen in statements by Yoshimi Inaba, Toyota’s new chief of North American operations.
Inaba, asked Monday whether the company would shelve its Mississippi plant, said, “I hope not,” and added, “I’m not that pessimistic” about its future, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Nothing that Toyota spokespersons have said in Tupelo or elsewhere has indicated that the Blue Springs plant won’t be activated, and Toyota has a long history of fulfilling commitments once made. It has kept its financial commitments to the state and the PUL counties even though production is on hold.
Were it to cancel the Blue Springs plant Toyota would owe Mississippi and the PUL counties several hundred million dollars for the state’s and alliance’s financial backing and incentives.
Our region, the PUL Alliance, and the state have fulfilled all commitments made on schedule.
Neither our region nor Toyota can control the economy, and as it recovers we continue to believe that some kind of Toyota will be manufactured in Blue Springs.
NEMS Daily Journal