With its Mississippi project back on track and its existing North American plants closing in on full capacity, embattled Toyota says it's ready for a resurgence in demand.
Idled shifts have been restored, though line speed is not all the way back, said Steve St. Angelo, executive vice president for Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America Inc.
The industry sales plunge in 2008 and 2009 and recall-related shutdowns this year had Toyota playing defense. Unprecedented cutbacks became the norm. A few Toyota factories experienced extensive downtime or eliminated shifts.
In December 2008, with the economy sinking into a deep recession, the automaker suspended work on its new plant near Tupelo, Miss.
Today, a more stable production environment lies ahead, Toyota executives say. The automaker plans to build 10 to 15 percent more vehicles in North America in 2010 than in 2009.
"We spent an incredible amount of time getting our capacity [use] to where we think it needs to be," St. Angelo said. He's overseeing development of the Mississippi plant, which will make Corollas when it starts production in fall 2011.
The resumption of the project is a vote of confidence in economic recovery, Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., said last week.
"We still believe that we're going to see continued growth in the overall industry," Lentz said. "We're confident we're seeing things improving, especially if you look at what's going on in the light-truck side of business."
Those gains helped make the case for restarting Toyota's factory project in Blue Springs, Miss. But the lessons of the past few years remain top of mind. The budget has been chopped by $500 million, from $1.3 billion to $800 million.
The savings are derived largely from a plan to reuse existing Corolla tooling from the now-shuttered New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant in California. Toyota shifted 150,000 vehicles annually -- most of NUMMI's Corolla production -- to Japan this spring when NUMMI closed but will bring it back when the Mississippi plant opens.
Bob King, new president of the UAW, which represented NUMMI workers, criticized the Mississippi announcement last week. King said the UAW would picket Toyota dealers nationwide in an attempt to pressure the company to allow the union to organize its plants.