One of the less urgent results of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan March 11 was the announcement by Toyota, whose corporate headquarters is in Tokyo, that it would idle production at its facilities in that country.
The initial decision came on March 14, roughly 72 hours after the 9.0 magnitude quake and the tsunami it produced leveled much of Northeast Japan. Production was originally scheduled to restart at the four Japanese facilities March 16, but that has been pushed back until at least March 22. The production halt only applies to those facilities that make vehicles. Toyota plants that make replacement for vehicles already on the market resumed March 17. Production of parts for overseas production was set to resume March 21.
Toyota had not decided as of Thursday afternoon last week when vehicle production in Japan would resume following the disaster.
The effects of the Japan interruption had crossed the Pacific last week, when Toyota ceased all overtime operations at its 13 facilities in North America. The move, Toyota officials said in a press release, was to ensure inventories of Japanese-made parts used in North American production remained suitable.
Mississippi’s own Toyota plant in Blue Springs, which is set to produce Corollas starting this fall, is still on schedule, officials told the Mississippi Business Journal last week.
Mike Goss, general manager for external affairs for Toyota’s North American manufacturing headquarters in Kentucky, said between 15 and 20 percent of the parts Blue Springs workers would use to build Corollas would come from Japan.
“It varies from model to model,” he said. “Still, if parts are missing, it’s not a complete car, obviously.”
Goss said one advantage the Corolla has is that it was previously made in the U.S. at the joint-venture plant Toyota shared with General Motors in northern California before it closed last year. “So a lot of the suppliers are already in the U.S.,” Goss said. “A lot are in Mississippi. There is nothing right now that would indicate that a delay in opening Blue Springs would be necessary.”
If those circumstances should change, it would be the third delay to hit Blue Springs since its introduction four years ago. The plant’s original start-up date was late 2008, but the recession twice put those plans on the shelf until last summer, when Toyota said it felt confident the downturn’s grip on the automotive market had loosened enough to move forward with the project. The hiring and workforce development for the plant started last fall.
Construction on the plant is finished. Toyota has been installing equipment and machinery to build the Corolla since last year.
“We are currently installing equipment, and the earthquake has not directly impacted (Blue Springs) as we are not yet in production,” said Emily Holland, spokesperson for Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi. “Once we begin production, we will receive some parts from Japan, but we cannot speculate as to whether the current situation will affect our production until we have a better understanding of the extent of the damage in Japan. Our corporate office is monitoring the situation daily.
“We’re still installing equipment, we’re still hiring. We have (new-worker) orientation every Monday,” Holland continued.
Asked for a spot on the calendar where the production halt could potentially push back the opening of Blue Springs, Holland said, “Honestly, I can’t speculate on that. It’s so chaotic in Japan that the assessment is still underway. We’re still trying to get as clear a picture as we can on how our other North American facilities will be affected. But right now, we have absolutely no reason to believe that the opening of Blue Springs would be delayed.”
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