VALENCIENNES, France - Toyota's new plant here will be used as a model for future Toyota factories around the world.
The 4 billion franc (about $727 million at current exchange rates) plant will open in early 2001. Eventually, it will produce 150,000 Yaris superminis a year.
'Valenciennes is not a copy of any other Toyota plant. It will be the model for Toyota plants in the 21st century,' said Didier Leroy, vice president for manufacturing at Toyota Motor Manufacturing France. 'It will be a compact plant, not only to save space but also to be more efficient. We'll have a short final assembly line, and we will focus on a highly ergonomic environment for all working operations.'
The plant's foundation stone was laid Nov. 12 by French Industry Minister Christian Pierret and Toyota Motor Corp. Chairman Hiroshi Okuda. 'This plant will be the most important milestone in the development of Toyota Europe in the next century,' Okuda said. 'If the Yaris is successful, we will look to add other models at Valenciennes.'
Hiroaki Watanabe, chairman of Toyota Motor Manufacturing France, said 'we want to shrink the surface of buildings and the energy consumed by the plant' compared with assembly plants with a similar capacity.
'We will pay great attention optimizing the disposal of manufacturing equipment and the delivery of parts to the final assembly line,' said Watanabe, who was previously deputy general manager of Toyota Motor Manufacturing U.K. and chairman of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada.
For Watanabe, the reason for such a compact design is economic. 'The Yaris is a small car; therefore, the manufacturing costs must not be a handicap.'
The plant will incorporate a plastic injection shop alongside the traditional stamping, body, painting and final assembly areas. Toyota will make major plastic components such as bumpers and instrument panels on site.
Half of the plant's suppliers will be French and 20 percent will be in the northern France area, according to the French ministry of industry.
Leroy said 110 suppliers have been selected to provide prototype parts.
'There is a high probability that these companies will get the final production contracts,' he said. 'Suppliers will receive a final confirmation in late 1998 and early 1999.'
About 2,000 workers will be hired. They will be trained at Toyota's plant in Burnaston, England, and at assembly plants in North America. More than 10,000 applications have been received.