Toyota Delays Miss. Prius Factory As Sales Fall
Toyota Motor Corp. has indefinitely delayed a plant in Mississippi that was slated to start making its Prius hybrid sedan in May 2010, the latest sign that even foreign auto makers are scaling back North American operations.
Toyota approved the plant in 2007, when sales were booming and foreign makers were racing to expand production to grab market share from the Big Three U.S. car companies. But the recession and plunge in industry sales to crisis levels are forcing even healthier car companies to retreat.
'The market turned on Toyota just like it turned on the Big Three,' said Rebecca Lindland, an analyst at IHS Global Insight, a forecasting firm.
On Friday, Honda Motor Co. announced its fourth round of production cuts in North America this year. All told, the Japanese company has cut output by 175,000 vehicles, or 12%, from its original plans. It is the equivalent of one factory's annual production and a surprisingly large reduction for a company that had posted record sales earlier this year.
General Motors Corp. said recently it would slash production by about 250,000 vehicles, or some 30% of its North American assembly volume, in the first quarter.
Foreign auto makers have been expanding North American production for two decades. BMW AG of Germany plans a $750 million expansion of its South Carolina plant, although it recently laid off several hundred temporary workers due to the weak auto market. Kia Motors of South Korea is building a plant in Georgia, its first U.S. factory, and said Monday it is on track to open a year from now.
Volkswagen AG plans to build a Tennessee plant that will assemble a new sedan in the second half of 2011. The plant, which will have a 250,000-vehicle capacity, would mark the German maker's return to U.S. assembly after closing a Pennsylvania factory in the late 1980s.
Toyota's Mississippi plant, near Tupelo, was originally supposed to build the Highlander sport-utility vehicle. When gasoline prices soared in the spring, it pushed the start of production to May 2010 from late 2009 and then said the plant would produce the Prius instead. The latest delay means that the Prius will continue to be produced exclusively in Japan.
The company said it would complete construction of the building but would hold off on installing production equipment. So far, Toyota said it has invested $300 million of the plant's estimated cost of $1.3 billion. 'Due to the uncertainty of the market, it is impossible to say at this time when production will begin,' the company said in a statement.
预测公司IHS Global Insight的分析师丽贝卡•林德兰德(Rebecca Lindland) 说，市场对丰田“翻脸”了，就像对三巨头做的一样。
最近二十年来，外国汽车制造商一直在扩大北美地区的生产。德国的宝马汽车(BMW AG)计划斥资7.5亿美元扩建南卡罗来纳州的一家工厂，不过由于汽车市场的不景气，该公司最近裁减了数百名临时工。韩国的起亚汽车(Kia Motors)正在乔治亚州建自己的第一家美国工厂，该公司周一表示厂子有望在一年后投产。