Toyota plant on track

Published 12:08 am Friday, September 16, 2011

BLUE SPRINGS (AP) — Officials say plans for Toyota’s plant in north Mississippi remain on track with Corolla production scheduled to begin in October.

The statement was included this week in Toyota’s announcement that its North American production is back to normal levels after a six-month slowdown following the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Toyota builds 12 models in North America, including the Camry, RAV4 and Tacoma pickup. Together, they account for nearly 70 percent of Toyota’s U.S. sales.

No specific start-up for the Mississippi plant has been announced. The plant is located in the northeast Mississippi community of Blue Springs.

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“We remain on schedule to begin Corolla production in October,” Toyota Mississippi spokeswoman Emily Holland said. “We will celebrate the first vehicle produced at our plant in Blue Springs, and recognize the hard work and dedication of our team members, with a line-off ceremony after we start production.”

Toyota originally announced plans to open the facility in 2009. Since then, Blue Springs has waited as the projected start date was pushed back and the vehicle to be produced was changed twice. The site originally was scheduled to produce the Highlander SUV, then the Prius hybrid. The company halted development of the facility for 18 months after auto sales plummeted in 2008.

“We want some cars to roll out the door,” Blue Springs Mayor David Boland said Wednesday.

The plant will eventually employ about 2,000 people. The facility recently marked its 1,000th hire, and 575 more spots are to be filled by year’s end, Holland said.

She said the plant will operate on a Monday-Friday schedule. A single shift will build Corollas through the end of the year, then a second shift is to be added in the spring.

The $1.3 billion plant will restore U.S. production of the Corolla, which ended when the NUMMI plant in California was shuttered last year.

The plant will have the capability to produce up to 150,000 vehicles per year.

Toyota also said its Huntsville, Ala., plant begins four-cylinder engine production this month. The plant, which already builds six- and eight-cylinder engines for trucks, will build the four-cylinder for Camry, Highlander, RAV4, Venza and Sienna.