SAN ANTONIO -- It's a long way from the heart of Toyota's U.S. manufacturing operations in Georgetown, Ky., to the site of Toyota's new truck assembly plant - a bit more than 1,200 miles.
Therein lies one of the biggest challenges the Japanese automaker has faced in North America as it pursues a strategy to build Tundras here to win the hearts and wallets of full-sized truck buyers.
Parts used at the plant, which is scheduled to open in 2006, will have to be transported 1,000 to 1,500 miles on a just-in-time basis from Toyota's network of suppliers.
"Logistics will be a bit of a challenge," says Dennis Cuneo, senior vice president for Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America Inc. in Erlanger, Ky. "We're well aware of that. But we're confident we can make it work."
Toyota will spend $800 million to build the plant south of San Antonio. Company executives, including Toyota Motor Corp. President Fujio Cho, made it clear that the location choice was driven primarily by a desire to stake a claim in Texas' sprawling big-truck market. Toyota currently has about 4 percent of the full-sized truck market in the United States, and Cho wants that to grow to 10 percent.
"This is called truck country," Cho said in a private conversation after meeting with Texas state and congressional delegates last week. "It's our expectation that people will be more receptive to a locally made truck."
But while the plant is only 150 miles from the Mexican border, the full-sized pickups it will produce will not be sold in Mexico, Toyota says.
Famed for sticking to the tried-and-true in manufacturing, Toyota's factory bosses would rather be known as predictable producers of quality than daring pioneers.
Aside from the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. joint-venture plant with General Motors in Fremont, Calif., Toyota's manufacturing operations in the United States have grown up around a corridor in the Middle Atlantic and Southeast states framed by Interstates 65 and 75.
But in San Antonio, officials say the Texas location will be a reach.
Cho says no decision has been made yet on the source of the plant's V-8 engines.
Toyota is building an engine factory in Huntsville, Ala., which is a 1,000-mile drive from San Antonio. But that project so far is scheduled to produce engines only for the Tundra plant in Princeton, Ind.