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Legislature to adjourn this week minus a budget? And what about those new Nissans?

March 22nd, 2010 No comments

Magnolia Marketplace has been making the rounds of the Capitol sources this morning, and we’ve got an interesting nugget to pass along: There are strong expectations that the Legislature will adjourn this week without a budget.

Reason being: The state still needs more information from the federal government regarding Medicaid, and how the state will have to adjust to the new FMAP rules. So the plan is to send lawmakers home while all that is ironed out. Once it is, the Legislature will gavel back into session and hammer out a spending plan for fiscal year 2011, which starts July 1.

The same thing last session kept lawmakers at the Capitol literally until the 11th hour. A budget deal wasn’t reached until minutes before the new fiscal year started. There was a significant hue and cry earlier this session to make sure that didn’t happen again. A giant leap toward a repeat of last year appears ready to happen, though.

Dan Turner, spokesman for Gov. Haley Barbour, would not confirm the rumors but did say such a move “wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.”

So stay tuned on that front.

Shifting gears, Nissan will hold a press conference Wednesday afternoon to provide an update to its $118 million expansion and restructuring that will make way for production of light commercial vehicles. The LCVs are scheduled to hit the market this fall, once the 2011 model year starts. Magnolia Marketplace wrote a story about this very thing two weeks ago, and the company said then that everything was on track. Wednesday should fill in some of the gaps. We’ll have the particulars once it’s over.

Toyota reports February sales

March 2nd, 2010 No comments

Toyota has just released its sales figures for the month of February. There is some pretty good and some really bad in the numbers.

The really bad:

Overall sales of Toyotas — excluding Lexus and Scion — for February came in at 100,027 vehicles. That represents a decrease of 8.7 percent from last February.

The Corolla compact and the mid-size Camry and Camry Hybrid were the company’s best-sellers last month. About 17,000 new Corollas rolled off car lots; the Camry and Camry Hybrid combined to sell about 16,500 units.

To go with the foundering automotive market, Toyota had to expect some sales-related fallout from the recall mess the company has been fighting since the calendar turned to 2010.

The decline is magnified by the strong showings General Motors and Ford both posted earlier today. Ford sales increased a whopping 43 percent; GM’s jumped 12 percent.

The good news is that Lexus sales were up 4.5 percent in February 2010, compared with February 2009. The Tacoma mid-size pickup also saw its sales jump almost 6 percent.

What’s even better for Mississippi, where the company maintains it will eventually build the Prius Hybrid, is that sales of the vehicle this past February (7,968 units) were up 10.2 percent from the same period last year.

You can view the entire sales breakdown here.

Toyota reports February sales

March 2nd, 2010 No comments

Toyota has just released its sales figures for the month of February. There is some good and bad in the numbers.

The bad:

Overall sales of Toyotas — excluding Lexus and Scion — for February came in at100,027 vehicles. That represents a decrease of 8.7 percent from last February.

The Corolla compact and the mid-size Camry and Camry Hybrid were the company’s best-sellers last month. About 17,000 new Corollas rolled off car lots; the Camry and Camry Hybrid combined to sell about 16,500 units.

To go with the foundering automotive market, Toyota had to expect some sales-related fallout from the recall mess the company has been fighting since the calendar turned to 2010. Both General Motors and Ford earlier today posted strong showings for February. Ford sales increased a whopping 43 percent; GM’s jumped 12 percent.

The good news is that Lexus sales were up 4.5 percent in February 2010, compared with February 2009. The Tacoma mid-size pickup also saw its sales jump almost 6 percent.

What’s even better for Mississippi, where the company maintains it will eventually build the Prius Hybrid, is that sales of the vehicle this past February (7,968 units) were up 10.2 percent from the same period last year.

You can view the entire sales breakdown here.

Toyota idling two plants, and a little housekeeping

February 16th, 2010 No comments

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.”

Toyota makes Prius recall official

February 9th, 2010 No comments

Toyota announced late last night it is recalling 133,000 2010 Prius hybrids to fix problems associated with the antilock braking system software. Also included in the recall are 14,500 2010 Lexus HS 250h models.

Toyota said in a press release that some Prius and 250h owners have experienced “inconsistent brake feel during slow and steady application of brakes on rough or slick road surfaces when the ABS is activated in an effort to maintain tire traction.”

Obviously, the Prius is near and dear to the heart of Mississippi’s business community, with the facility in Blue Springs on tap to eventually build the vehicle. Magnolia Marketplace is working on a story for next week’s MBJ about how the recall mess will (or won’t) affect the goings-on in North Mississippi. Look for it.

UPDATED AT 10 A.M.: Meant to include a link to the Toyota press release, which is here.

Spokeswoman: Prius recall not yet official

February 5th, 2010 No comments

We just got off the phone with Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America Spokeswoman Barbara McDaniel. Here’s the full transcript of our brief conversation.

Magnolia Marketplace: “Has anything become official with the Prius recall?”

McDaniel: “No, there’s nothing official. We’re still investigating.”

Magnolia Marketplace: “I’m contractually obligated to ask this question, but will this have any effect on the Blue Springs facility?”

McDaniel: “No.”

So there you have it. Gov. Haley Barbour is holding a press conference at 11 a.m. to announce yet another round of budget cuts, but we’ll try to sneak in a question about Toyota and see what he thinks.

UPDATED AT 9:36 A.M.: Barbour’s office has just issued a press release announcing the press conference at 11 has been canceled so Barbour can “continue to analyze budget options.”

Spokeswoman: Toyota recall will have no bearing on Blue Springs plans

February 2nd, 2010 No comments

Toyota, which has long been considered the gold standard for automotive companies, has taken a substantial hit lately with its recall related to gas pedals sticking to the floor, causing sudden and unintended acceleration. (“Sudden unintended acceleration” — now that sounds scary.)

Anyway, most of the media coverage has focused on how the company will rebound from having to suspend sales of eight of its models, including the Camry, traditionally one of its best sellers.

What the recall will not touch is Toyota’s plans for Blue Springs, according to spokeswoman Barbara McDaniel. “Totally unrelated” is how McDaniel characterized the recall and the question of when the facility in North Mississippi will start production.

Not included in the gas pedal recall is the hybrid Prius, the vehicle Toyota plans to build in Blue Springs whenever it decides to open it.

In legislative news, today marks a major deadline. Bills that aren’t sent out of their committees by midnight tonight will die. Magnolia Marketplace is working on a story for next week’s MBJ that takes a look at what died and what survived that is of interest to the business community. Look for it.

Stennis format changes a bit

January 25th, 2010 No comments

Gov. Haley Barbour was the keynote for today’s monthly luncheon meeting of the Stennis Capitol Press Corps in Jackson. Usually, speakers offer a 20- to 30-minute presentation before taking a few questions from the audience.

Barbour took the podium and started taking questions immediately. It was a nice change.

Anyway, Barbour didn’t say a whole lot that he didn’t say Friday, when he announced that he was making the third round of cuts to the state’s budget.

He did say that he thought “the vast majority of school districts will be fine” financially after the the latest round of cuts brought the total dollars shaved from the Mississippi Adequate Education Program to $170 million for fiscal year 2010. State Superintendent of Education Dr. Tom Burnham said Friday afternoon that the cuts would “devastate” the state’s public education system. School districts will have to lean heavily on their reserves, Barbour said, to make it to the end of the budget  year. Included in Barbour’s executive budget recommendation is a $35 million set aside to assist those districts whose reserves are not as deep as others.

Barbour also repeated a line he has used frequently the past couple months, that he thinks Mississippi will emerge from the national recession quicker than other states because of the proliferation of high-tech manufacturing jobs from projects like Severstal in Columbus and the GE Aviation plant in Batesville. His commission to study school consolidation is scheduled to release its findings in a report on April 1, which is too late for that issue to be considered in the regular session. Barbour said it’s likely a special session would be needed to tackle it. That, of course, is assuming lawmakers are able to craft a budget for FY2011 by the end of March, which is far from guaranteed.

Barbour, who serves as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, also talked some national politics. He called Republican Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts for the right to fill Ted Kennedy’s old U.S. Senate seat “volcanic” and said it had changed the GOP’s playbook for 2010 and beyond, with candidate recruitment increasing in some places that have traditionally been hostile to Republicans. The RGA, Barbour said, has $25 million to spend on elections in 2010, which is a record amount.

Barbour thinks this political environment is more favorable to Republicans than it was in 1994, when Barbour was head of the National Republican Committee and engineered the GOP takeover of the U.S. House and Senate.

“There’s a lot of energy on our side,” Barbour said.

Barbour also had a pretty interesting take on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a 20-year-old law that prohibited corporations and unions from spending money on political advertising. Magnolia Marketplace is working on a story about that for next week’s MBJ, and Barbour’s thoughts on the matter will pepper it pretty heavily. Look for it.

Incentive legislation tops agenda as session starts

January 5th, 2010 No comments

Gov. Haley Barbour announced yesterday that Wilh. Schulz GMBH will build a $300 million facility in Tunica to manufacture the latest generation of steel pipes used for natural gas and oil distribution. We have a story with the details on the Web site.

The state will issue $15 million in bonds to help the company purchase equipment for the project. Legislation authorizing just that is expected to be among the first things lawmakers do once the 2010 session gavels open at noon today.

Magnolia Marketplace just talked with a couple folks over at the Capitol who expect the legislation to move quickly, and for it possibly to reach Barbour’s desk this afternoon. With all the budget haranguing coming down the pike, lawmakers probably wish everything was this easy.

Barbour plans “major economic development” announcement this afternoon

January 4th, 2010 No comments

Just before Christmas, Magnolia Marketplace made a few predictions for 2010 (read them here) and one of them was that Ole Miss QB Jevan Snead would throw at least one interception in the Cotton Bowl.

Just call us Nostradamus Marketplace.

Anyway, the first workday of 2010 has a chance to prove another of our predictions true, although it is a small chance.

Gov. Haley Barbour is set to make a “major economic development announcement” this afternoon at 4, according to a press release from his office.

Two things jump to mind immediately: One is Toyota and the other is a steel pipe manufacturer that wants to build a facility in Tunica. Based on what Magnolia Marketplace has heard the past couple months, we would be suprised — but not at all shocked — if Toyota announced before March or April that the Blue Springs plant was moving forward. That’s not to say definitively that today’s news from Barbour won’t be Toyota-centric, but it would be a mild upset if it was.

There is a decent chance Barbour will tell everybody that the German manufacturer of steel pipes has resolved the financing issue that has held up the Legislature passing an incentive package. Barbour had planned to call a special session in late October to do so, but that has been delayed while the company got its financial ducks in a row.

It could be either of those two things, or it could be neither of those two things. As soon as we know, we’ll spread the word.

UPDATED AT 10:15 A.M. : Toyota spokeswoman Barbara McDaniel just emailed to say that today’s announcement will have nothing to do with Toyota. “It’s not us,” McDaniel wrote.

So there you have it.