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Toyota idling two plants, and a little housekeeping

Toyota announced today that it will idle two of its manufacturing facilities — one in Texas, the other in Kentucky — as the fallout from the recalls spreads. The plant in Texas, which makes the Tundra truck, will shut down for one week in March and one week in April. The facility in Kentucky, where Toyota builds the Camry and Avalon sedans and the Venza crossover, will idle Feb. 26 and possibly two or three more days in March or April,a spokesman told the Associated Press.

That doesn’t make much of an impact here in Mississippi, but I have a story in this week’s edition of the MBJ that takes a look at how the recalls — which added the Prius about 10 days ago — might affect the Blue Springs plant, which supposedly will build the Prius, though nobody really knows when production will start. Be sure to check it out.

Anyway, there remain a few notes from that story that didn’t really fit with the overall theme of the final draft, but are still worth mentioning:

Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at Edmunds.com, had an interesting take on how Toyota is handling the public relations boondoggle the recalls have created. A lot of folks have said that Toyota was slow to react, and when it did, did not do that great a job. That may be due to a couple things, Krebs said. The first is that there apparently was no established blueprint  to start putting out the fires immediately after they started. Krebs’ second theory goes to the Japanese culture.

“I would think that any major corporation of any sort would have a crisis management plan ready to enact at any moment,” she said. “You would think they would practice some of these scenarios. I think it’s definitely a lack of experience. If you look at the Japanese culture, the companies are revered. They don’t have a lot of lawyers. They don’t have the scrutiny of the media like we do here. And frankly, I think Toyota got arrogant and got complacent.”

Mark Ragsdale, a former dealership owner who now serves as a consultant to the automotive industry, said Toyota put too much of the PR burden on its dealers, which runs counter to the reputation it has enjoyed among its individual franchises.

“Toyota always is in the top two or three in dealer-relations surveys,” Ragsdale said. “But automakers are their own breed of cat. They’re not real big on taking responsibility. The automakers use dealers as human shields to get in front of the customer and handle things, but dealers don’t always have the tools to do that.”

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