And so the plant now runs 24 hours a day on three shifts, managing a complex logistical dance that ultimately depends on keeping things as simple as possible.
The plant is what its executives proudly call a scrapper, punching above its weight and overcoming logistics challenges that are unique to a frontier outpost, far from traditional supplier bases and transportation corridors.
“Baja is the best-kept secret. It’s been very quiet, very humble,” said Mike Bafan, president of Toyota manufacturing in Baja and president of the Corolla plant under construction farther south in Guanajuato. “But it’s been getting better and better. It’s the little engine that could.”
The plant wins internal and external awards for vehicle quality and plant safety, Bafan said.
When it opened it 2004, Toyota Baja was essentially a parts supplier. It built 150,000 Tacoma truck beds a year for Toyota’s former joint-venture plant with General Motors in Fremont, Calif., and assembled 30,000 Tacomas on the side.
After Fremont’s closure in 2010 (it’s now Tesla Motors’ main factory), Baja increased production of fully assembled Tacomas to 56,000 in 2012, and continued to ramp up steadily year after year on strong demand for the pickup.
Last year, the plant went through a more radical change: the launch of the redesigned 2016 Tacoma and the implementation of a third shift. It now runs flat out Monday through Friday, and with two shifts on Saturday.
Bafan, who worked for GM for 22 years, said moving to a round-the-clock operation took some planning, such as altering the normal biweekly shift rotations to once a month after consulting with workers, and initially slowing down the line on the third shift.
“You’re limited in terms of tools, equipment, size of the plant,” said Bafan, “so where we are today is truly beyond my own imagination.”
The Baja plant now is on its way to making 105,000 units a year, having doubled capacity in three short years. Toyota workers get crucial help from a joint venture that handles incoming parts and delivers subassemblies on the factory floor. The joint venture accounts for about 700 of the plant’s 1,865 workers.