By DENNIS SEID / Daily Journal
BLUE SPRINGS – Toyota Mississippi officials said production of the Corolla at the Blue Springs plant won’t be affected by Friday’s announcement that Toyota will be building the vehicle at a new $1.6 billion assembly plant in which it is partnering with Mazda.
A location for the plant hasn’t been decided, but the facility will employ up to 4,000 workers and, in addition to building the Corolla, will build a vehicle for Mazda. The two Japanese automakers also will work together on electric-car technology.
The companies hope to have the plant open by 2021.
“We don’t have a lot of information because it’s a joint venture with Mazda, and there were very few people in the loop in North America who knew about it, and we weren’t one of them,” said Mike Botkin, vice president of administration at Toyota Mississippi. “But what we do know is that there’s no anticipation of a reduction in volume here.”
Toyota has invested $961 million in the Blue Springs plant, which employs 2,000 workers.
Toyota Mississippi began production in October 2011 and built its 500,000th vehicle in early 2015. It is expected to build its 1 millionth vehicle this year. The plant is structured to build 170,000 vehicles a year but has built as many as 190,000.
Through last year, Toyota has sold more than 300,000 Corollas in the U.S. for four consecutive years. Corolla production also is done at a plant in Canada.
The new plant takes the place of a Corolla plant Toyota had initially planned to build in Mexico. But in joining with Mazda, the company opted to find a location in the U.S., which would mark the first time Mazda has built a car in the U.S. after Ford sold its ownership in the company in 2008.
“That new plant will have a capacity of 300,000 vehicles, and it’s slated to be 150,000 for the Corolla and the other half for the Mazda vehicle,” Botkin said. “What we would guess is for us, instead of our relationship with Georgetown (Kentucky, where Toyota’s plant there is the ‘mother plant’ to Blue Springs), we’d have some sister-plant role with whatever and wherever this plant will be.
“We’re in the process of preparing for our current volumes to be projected, and at this moment, we don’t see any big change for us. Of course, during this process, if we’re called upon to play a stronger role, we can do that.”
Toyota, in a press release, said this about the joint venture with Mazda:
“… Pending approvals and authorization by relevant government agencies, the companies will begin to examine detailed plans with the goal to starting operations of the new plant in 2021. The plant will require a total investment of approximately 1.6 billion U.S. dollars, and will create up to 4,000 jobs. In addition to the collaboration in product and technology areas that the companies have enjoyed thus far, Toyota and Mazda intend to improve competitiveness in manufacturing through this new production collaboration.
“At the new plant, Mazda expects to produce cross-over models that Mazda will newly introduce to the North American market, and Toyota plans to produce the Corolla for the North American market.
“By producing vehicles in the U.S., Mazda aims to build a production structure to further grow in North America. These activities will allow the company to more quickly respond to its customers’ needs depending on the region and model.
Toyota will buy a 5 percent stake in Mazda, while Mazda will get a .25 percent share in its larger partner.
In 2015, Toyota and Mazda agreed to work together to use the resources of both companies and “complementing each other’s products and technologies toward the goal of making more-appealing cars.” That came together with today’s announcement.
Whether Mississippi – and the 1,700-acre Blue Springs site – is in the running for the new plant remains to be seen.
David Rumbarger, president and CEO of the Community Development Foundation in Tupelo, which helped market the site and recruited Toyota, said there’s no reason not to think otherwise.
“Blue Springs is a proven commodity and has shown it’s fully capable of building the top-selling vehicle in the world,” he said.
Indeed, the plant reached 500,000 cars faster than any other plant in Toyota history, and last year it won a coveted J.D. Power Initial Quality award.
Botkin said the decision to build won’t be Toyota’s alone, with Mazda having a say-so in the ultimate decision.
“They’re going to start looking at sites to look at the best benefits for Toyota and Mazda. There will be a lot of factors considered in making that decision,” he said.
As for the potential of Blue Springs being home to that plant, Botkin didn’t want to speculate. However, he had nothing but praise for the 2,000 workers at Toyota Mississippi.
“We’re really proud of our accomplishments to date,” he said. “This plant is a great example of Toyota’s know-how and ingenuity, and of course its match with the work force and our partners in the community. Together, we make such a great team, and through this teamwork, we’ve made some fantastic accomplishments.
“We’re going to continue to get better and committed to continue supporting the community, as well as relying on the community for support. We’d welcome anything beyond that, to be honest.”
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said the state values its relationship with Toyota and is “extremely grateful the company continues to provide more than 2,000 career opportunities for Northeast Mississippians.
“As Toyota embarks on its joint venture with Mazda, we stand ready to grow our existing partnership and strengthen Mississippi’s standing as a global leader in automotive manufacturing.”