TOKYO — Toyota is pushing back on any notion that its decision to cut investment and capacity at a plant under construction in Mexico has anything to do with U.S. political pressure.
The reduction was strictly a business move, the company says, because the automaker had to shuffle its North American production plans after deciding in August to also build a U.S. plant with partner Mazda.
Didier Leroy, executive vice president of Toyota Motor Corp., said initial investment at the factory in the state of Guanajuato in central Mexico was trimmed to $700 million from $1 billion after the plant's product changed. But he said there's no reason why the factory can't be expanded in the future.
"We are not moving production back to the U.S.," Leroy said on the sidelines of the Tokyo Motor Show last week. "We are not doing any kind of political game."
Some Mexican media outlets suggested last week that the "Trump effect" could have influenced Toyota's decision to trim investment in Guanajuato to keep out of the president's crosshairs.
As president-elect in January, Donald Trump targeted Toyota's Mexico plans in a Twitter message: "Build plant in U.S. or pay big border tax." Since then, the president has praised the company's U.S. venture with Mazda.
Toyota is cutting capacity in Guanajuato by half to 100,000 vehicles a year after the product shifted from the Corolla sedan to the Tacoma pickup. The Corolla is now slated to be built at the Toyota-Mazda joint plant because it's a good fit with the small crossover Mazda intends to build there, Toyota officials have said.
With Corolla production shifted out of Guanajuato, Toyota had to decide what to build there. The Tacoma made the most sense because Toyota has struggled to meet U.S. demand for the pickup.
Toyota's pickup plant in Texas, where it also makes the full-size Tundra, has been running overtime, and its Tacoma plant in Baja California, Mexico, runs three shifts.
"We didn't change our mind with Mexico," Leroy said. "We just said, OK, what is the need now? It's trucks. Let's produce trucks. We can have a hub between Texas, Baja California and the new plant in Mexico. In these three different locations we will produce Tundra and Tacoma, which is the best in terms of global supply for the North American market."
Toyota was also boxed in because it was in the middle of an expansion at the Baja plant to increase capacity to 160,000 pickups a year from 100,000. That expansion is almost complete.
Leroy said Toyota could take another look at the Guanajuato plant down the road.
"We still have the possibility to increase in the future," he said. "But don't ask me now when or by how many. Let's start the plant and see what will be the next step."