An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated where Toyota’s new Mexico plant is located. It is being constructed in the central Mexico state of Guanajuato. The story also misstated who called Toyota de Mexico President Mike Bafan about the change in production. It was Toyota’s North America CEO Jim Lentz.
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- If you want a glimpse of Toyota Motor Corp.'s vision for flexible manufacturing, consider the plant rising in the central Mexico state of Guanajuato.
The facility is so nimble, it already has switched from building sedans to pickups — and it's not even open yet.
The site was meant to build Corollas. But in the midst of construction, the automaker's board of directors decided to dedicate the plant to cranking out Tacoma pickups to fuel strong demand.
Mike Bafan, president of Toyota de Mexico, remembers the 5:30 a.m. call he received from Toyota North America CEO Jim Lentz after the decision was made, asking how the drastic change would affect or delay the plant's construction.
"Frankly, it had no impact on us," he said Monday at the CAR Management Briefing Seminars. "We designed a plant that was less conventional than what we've done in the past. We worked very hard to design a layout that could manufacture just about anything: tricycles, cars or trucks."
The Guanajuato plant has docks on all sides so its production line will be able to take in parts and get them to specific spots in assembly quicker.
"Our goal was to make the entire assembly process very flexible so you can make changes quickly," Bafan said.
Flexibility will be key in the future as automakers wrestle with new technology such as autonomous and electrified vehicles, he said.
Toyota's plant in Tijuana, Mexico, which builds Tacoma pickups on three shifts, is another good example.
"It's sort of an incubator for many of the concepts we're trying to use and pursue in the future," he said.
The Tijuana plant has gone from making just over 20,000 vehicles per year in 2005 to 100,000 last year; 170,000 is expected this year.
That's because Toyota places an emphasis on continuous improvement and empowers its workers to do their own machine care and diagnose problems.
The focus on flexibility reflects the company's history, Bafan said. Toyota was founded as a loom company but grew into a global automaker. It now hopes to become a global mobility company.
"We must have a flexible vision and prepare for tomorrow's needs today," Bafan said.