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Japan's Big Three push extremes on speed, flexibility

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - Toyota expects its new Indiana truck plant to break a company record for producing at full speed.

The minivan and truck plant, under construction in Princeton, Ind., will go from launch of production to a full first-shift in less than 16 weeks, vows the operation's chief.

'We will do it in under 16,' said Seizo Okamoto, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana.

The target pushes an envelope that Toyota already has pushed to the extreme. In 1988, the automaker took 48 weeks to get the first shift of its Corolla plant in Cambridge, Ontario, up to speed. That same year, it took 40 weeks to get first-shift production of Camrys up to full speed at its plant in Georgetown, Ky.

Two years ago, Toyota seemed to surprise even itself when the first Indiana plant reached full line-speed on a new product - the full-sized Tundra pickup - in just 16 weeks.

Toyota is spending $800 million to build a second plant in Princeton. It will build a new version of the Sienna minivan in 2003.

Okamoto said that beating the schedules is getting tougher, but he said the plant will do it.

'It will be a little more aggressive,' he said. 'But it gets harder each time' to set a record.

Okamoto said the secret to Indiana's speed is in advanced training of its workers.

Comparing Indiana's first plant to Georgetown's, he said, 'The biggest difference was timing in our hiring. (Georgetown) hired gradually as they increased production. We concluded all our hiring before start-up. We spent a lot of time before the start of production on training.'

That enabled the plant to launch with 100 percent of its workers on the job - all of them trained.

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