DENNIS SEID

It wasn’t the big “second-phase” expansion officials have been hoping for since the plant opened, but last week’s announcement that Toyota Mississippi was adding 400 jobs was by no means a disappointment.

With the 1,500 team members already on board at the plant, plus another 400-500 contract workers, employment will reach 2,400 within a year.

The 12th-generation Corolla will be rolling off new production lines at the plant, built on a platform that underpins other vehicles under the Toyota umbrella including the Prius and Camry.

The Toyota New Global Architecture, or TNGA, allows the automaker to share more common parts and components with more vehicles. That means more efficient production, helping to streamline expenses. TNGA also provides the flexibility to build more than one type of vehicle.

Now let’s not put the cart before the horse, which we’re all guilty of. If you remember, even before the first slab of concrete for Toyota Mississippi put laid, people were talking about a “second phase,” which would be a mirror-image expansion of the plant.

That hasn’t happened, obviously, but the space if still available. Only about half of the 1,700-acre site is being used.

But should the next-generation Corolla be a hit – and there’s no reason to think it won’t be – and Toyota Mississippi continues to produce a high-quality vehicle, then there might be room for another expansion.

Toyota sold more than 300,000 Corollas for the fifth consecutive year in 2017, and the Blue Springs plant built about 162,000 of them. The rest were produced in Canada. But that plant will be shifting production back to the U.S., as Toyota wants to build more RAV4s there.

The new Toyota-Mazda joint venture plant that will be built in Huntsville, along with Toyota Mississippi, will have to take up that slack for the Corolla.

A redesigned model always brings interest – and buyers. And with gas prices going up, midsize cars like the Corolla will get more attractive. That, as the saying goes, is a “win-win” situation.

It’s also unclear where the Corolla hatchback will be built. Perhaps it will be built in Huntsville, perhaps it’ll be built in Blue Springs. Or at both locations.

Toyota Mississippi will undergo a massive retooling of its equipment to make the new Corolla, and it will be capable of building other models, if warranted – and if team members can prove they can handle the new technology.

Toyota Motor Corp. will be watching closely.

As plant president Sean Suggs said, “It provides us an opportunity to prove out, to make sure we have the capability and flexibility to do that. This is our first major model launch, and it will be a big test for our team members. But I think they’re up for the challenge.”

» CONTACT DENNIS SEID at (662) 678- 1578 or dennis.seid@journalinc.com.