The Toyota-Mazda manufacturing joint venture said it would begin construction next month of its 3.3 million-square-foot, $1.6 billion assembly plant in Alabama, with hopes of launching production in 2021 with an eye toward market flexibility.
According to Toyota, the project will employ up to 4,000 people in Huntsville, Ala., and produce about 300,000 vehicles a year -- 150,000 units of Mazda's new crossover model that will be introduced to the North American market and 150,000 units of the 2020 Toyota Corolla.
The ceremonial groundbreaking event on Friday came one day after Toyota debuted its redesigned Corolla sedan at Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif. The 12th-generation Corolla is based on the Toyota New Global Architecture. The latest Corolla sedan, Toyota says, draws from the same DNA as the new Corolla hatchback revealed this year. The two body styles also will share powertrains.
With U.S. sedan sales expected to fall in 2018 for the fifth straight year, the alliance's statement announcing the groundbreaking emphasized the plant's envisioned flexibility.
"The alliance will assure competitiveness in manufacturing, allowing both automakers to respond quickly to market changes and helping to ensure sustainable growth toward the future of mobility," the statement said.
A spokeswoman for Toyota said strategic planning for the plant is ongoing.
"Right now we are focusing on the process to hire and train 4,000 new team members.," the spokeswoman wrote in an email to Automotive News. "We have great collaboration with the State of Alabama to support us in both the hiring and training phases."
Toyota is exploring new supplier relationships for the operation.
"We are also focused on supplier sourcing for vehicle component parts," the spokeswoman wrote. "We are deeply engaged in supplier sourcing and look forward to establishing new business partnerships as related to the project."
Toyota and Mazda unveiled plans for the plant in August 2017 as part of a broader partnership between the two Japanese automakers. They considered several states for the project and selected Alabama as the winner in January.
The plant faced construction complications in October, when the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group, filed a suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, saying it failed to protect a habitat for an endangered species of sunfish that's near the plant site. The companies and the center are cooperating on the project, the Toyota spokeswoman wrote.
"Throughout the planning, design and construction of this project, we continue to collaborate with the Center for Biological Diversity, third party experts and other key stakeholders in developing and executing on a conservation strategy that works to preserve the spring pygmy sunfish and its habitat."
The site is about 14 miles from Toyota's Alabama engine plant, accelerating growth for Alabama in the auto sector.
"It is extremely special to have a partner like Mazda to team up with not only to make the highest-quality cars, but also to create a plant that team members are proud to call their own," said Jim Lentz, CEO of Toyota Motor North America.
Vince Bond contributed to this report.
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