MONTGOMERY, Ala. — With U.S. sales in decline — and who knows for how long? — is it the right time to add vehicle production capacity?
Possibly not, but for Toyota and Mazda, the situation was urgent.
The automakers last week announced they will invest $1.6 billion to build a 300,000-vehicle assembly plant near Huntsville, Ala., that will be up and running in 2021.
The partners worked out that plan — from proposal to completed deal — in just five months, according to Alabama officials who marveled at their own ability to deliver an acceptable factory location in that short time.
"Very seldom can a project of this size be put together as fast as this one," said Huntsville's somewhat breathless mayor, Tommy Battle, who helped put it together.
Among the steps: getting a $370 million state incentives package approved by the Legislature to support the project and arranging plans for Alabama to recruit and train the plant's 4,000 workers.
It helped that the pancake-flat 2,500-acre site, a former cotton field, already was available, having been looked over and rejected 10 years earlier when Volkswagen officials were searching for a place to build the plant that instead landed in Chattanooga.
It also didn't hurt that Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda already had warm, nostalgic feelings about Alabama. While making the plant announcement last week here in the state capital, he recalled that he stayed in Alabama as a Boy Scout on his first extended trip away from home.