Toyota to build Mississippi plant
Healey, USA TODAY
Toyota Motor (TM) took another step Tuesday in its quest to go from foreigner to naturalized American.
The big Japanese automaker, poised to become the biggest car company in the world this year, said it will build a $1.3 billion manufacturing plant near Tupelo, Miss., that will build 150,000 Highlander crossover utility vehicles annually when it opens in 2010.
Toyota said it will employ 2,000 factory workers at a forecast $20 an hour after three years on the job, not counting benefits.
That will bring to eight the number of Toyota's North American plants, capable of manufacturing 2.2 million vehicles a year, equivalent to 86% of the cars and trucks Toyota sold in the USA last year.
The plant is an attempt to keep up with growing U.S. demand. Toyota sales in the USA were up 12.5% last year in a new vehicle market off 2.5% from a year earlier.
Tupelo also is a move to insinuate Toyota so deeply into American culture that it's considered a U.S. company.
That's important, as Toyota's expansion continues to take business from Detroit automakers, potentially engendering resentment and political backlash.
The announcement Tuesday by enthusiastic government and Toyota officials at the Tupelo high school auditorium was a stunning contrast to the cuts announced lately by glum Detroit automakers.
General Motors (GM), Ford Motor (F) and DaimlerChrysler's (DCX) Chrysler Group are trying to shrink to fit their declining share of U.S. sales. Together they plan to ax 86,000 jobs and idle 26 factories by the end of 2009.
Toyota, meantime, says it will add more U.S. plants, if needed.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour praised Toyota as the answer to prayers of officials worried about shrinking employment in the state's furniture industry. Barbour said he was grateful to get the plant for less than the amount that Mississippi spent on incentives to lure Nissan Motor's truck plant to Canton in 2003. Toyota would get $296 million in incentives if the Legislature approves; Nissan got $363 million, according to the Mississippi Development Authority.
Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., thanked Toyota at the news conference for the economic boost the plant will provide. "When you're our constituent, we are warriors on your behalf, and I can assure you we will look after your interests," he said.
Toyota is an immigrant, not a foreigner, Jim Press, president of Toyota Motor North America, said in a speech in Chicago earlier this month. Immigrants "brought something of value," Press said. "At some point, they are assimilated and cease to be immigrants. In a way, that parallels our company," he said, laying out Toyota's agenda.
Toyota overtook DaimlerChrysler last year to become the No. 3 car company in the USA. It could overtake Ford to become No. 2 this year. Its global production plans would push it past GM as biggest car company in the world this year. In the USA, GM still sells about 60% more vehicles than Toyota.
Foreign-based car companies, including Toyota, operate a total of 13 vehicle-assembly plants in the USA. Most are in southern states, where unions are less likely to organize plant workers than in the industrial heartland, where Detroit's automakers are based. Legally, the workers, not the plant management, decide whether to unionize.
Highlander is a car-based crossover utility vehicle, a category that's booming even as sales of truck-based sport-utilities collapse.
Last year, Toyota sold 129,794 Highlanders in the USA, 24% of them hybrids, according to sales tracker Autodata. All those Highlanders were imported from Japan.
The automaker didn't say whether the hybrid version would also be built in Tupelo.
Toyota has a history of announcing expansions of its North American plants even before they're completed. Spokesman Daniel Sieger wouldn't predict whether that would happen in this case. "We're just talking about 150,000 Highlanders and 2,000 employees," he said.