TOYOTA CITY, Japan -- Japanese factories making the third-generation Toyota Prius are humming at near full capacity to meet booming demand for the hybrid car.
Four lines, at Toyotas Tsutsumi plant and a factory belonging to affiliate Toyota Auto Body Co., are churning out 50,000 cars a month, a pace 50 percent faster than Toyota's sales target. At Tsutsumi, overtime is back and the company is bringing in workers from other factories to boost output. Tsutsumi accounts for two-thirds of total Prius production.
Tsutsumi is pumping out a Prius every 66 seconds on Line No. 1 and every 57 seconds on Line No. 2. Thats just seconds behind the maximum takt time of 65 and 55 seconds. Takt time measures the time per unit to produce a product.
The reason for the surge in production: Toyota is trying to meet about 140,000 orders in Japan alone.
The Prius was the top-selling vehicle nationwide last month, excluding the segment of minivehicles with engine displacements of 660cc. Prius sales tallied 10,915 units, easily besting the 8,183 Insight hybrids sold by archrival Honda Motor Co.
Toyota officials in Tokyo did not have order or sales figures for other markets.
Despite strong demand, Toyota is no closer to deciding when to restart construction on the Prius plant planned for Tupelo, Miss. Toyota said last summer it would build the Prius there in late 2010. But amid record losses, Toyota put the plants opening on indefinite hold.
Toyota production chief Takeshi Uchiyamada said the Tupelo plants startup hinges on the recovery of the U.S. auto market. In the meantime, Toyota will tap excess capacity at home.
We have global capacity available, Uchiyamada said of expanding Prius output. So we are able to maximize the use of existing employees and facilities to respond to that demand.