LOS ANGELES - Barely two months after announcing plans to build a 150,000-unit truck plant in Texas, Toyota Motor Corp. says it is considering a pickup-bed factory under construction in Mexico for full-scale vehicle production.
The plant, in Tijuana, is slated to assemble pickup beds and knockdown versions of Tacoma pickups. If converted, it would be Toyota's fifth vehicle-production site in North America.
"I have a desire to make the Mexico plant a true factory, not just as a means of getting into the market," Yoshimi Inaba, CEO of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., said in an interview last week.
"When you look at (Toyota's) history, we always give birth small and grow big. We will find a way to grow the (Mexico) factory. It has to grow to a certain level to be economical, even though labor costs are cheap."
The Tijuana plant is set to open in mid-2004 and will have the capacity to produce 150,000 pickup beds annually. In 2005, Toyota is scheduled to begin final assembly of 20,000 Tacoma compact pickups a year from kits.
In 2002, Toyota built 1.2 million vehicles and 1.35 million engines and transmissions in North America. But the company is on an expansion bent, given its goal of attaining a 15 percent global market share.
How quickly and how big the Mexican plant grows depends on factors that include the pace of Toyota's entry into the local market, as well as the expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement in Mexico.
The Tacomas assembled at the Tijuana plant will be off the same platform as those built at Toyota's New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. joint-venture plant in Fremont, Calif. Toyota also has shown a concept FJ Cruiser SUV derived from the Tacoma platform, expected to compete against the Nissan Xterra.
When asked whether the Tijuana plant might be used for building the FJ Cruiser, Inaba said, "We have no concrete agenda yet. But there's a possibility."