HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — With the addition of four-cylinder engines to the production lineup, Huntsville’s Toyota plant is the automaker’s first in the world to produce four-cylinder, V-6 and V-8 engines “under one roof,” said Atsushi Niimi, the executive vice president of Toyota Motor Corp.
“Let me put that in perspective,” Niimi said today at a ceremony to mark four-cylinder production, which began earlier this month. “Engines produced here will go into eight of 12 models assembled in North America.”
A crowd of Toyota executives from the U.S. and Japan, hundreds of employees and local and state officials, including Gov. Robert Bentley, turned out for the event. Niimi joined Bentley; Kelly Keeney, a four-cylinder team member; and Shigeki Terashi, president of Toyota Motor Engineering Manufacturing North America, in a quality control inspection of the first four-cylinder.
Niimi said he’d like for Huntsville to become known as “the engine capital of the world.”
The plant, which started production in 2003, already builds V-6 and V-8 engines for trucks and SUVs and will now build the four-cylinder for Camry, Highlander, RAV4, Venza and Sienna.
The expansion at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama, or TMMAL, means it will supply engines to every Toyota vehicle assembly location in North America except the new plant in Blue Springs, Miss., scheduled to start production this fall.
Bentley first visited the Huntsville plant in July to thank workers for putting in more than 26,000 hours to help out in counties affected by the April 27 tornadoes. He also accepted a $165,000 donation from assembly line workers in Japan for the Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund.
Toyota is “a quality company, and you’re quality workers,” Bentley said. The reputation of the plant and its workforce “helps me recruit other quality companies to the state.”
Jim Bolte, TMMAL’s president, said the plant has had other “firsts” in 10 years here: Toyota’s first truck-only engine plant, the automaker’s first V-8 engine produced outside Japan and the first North American Toyota plant to begin production as a zero landfill facility.
This was Bolte’s third new engine celebration and the first in his role as TMMAL president. “You are the best group of team members in the world,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile, called the automaker “one of the great corporations in world” that has “taught us a lot” about teamwork and productivity.
U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, said he was serving on the Madison County Commission when Toyota announced it would build the plant here. “We didn’t realize how accomplished this facility would be,” he said.
The plant, which now has nearly 1,000 employees, will have the capacity to build more than 500,000 engines a year.
Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said he was asked in a Bloomberg Financial News interview what makes Huntsville special. His response: People that give back and companies that give back.
“Toyota, for 10 years, has been giving back to the community,” Battle said.
Due to their tornado relief work and other volunteer efforts, Toyota employees are examples of neighbors helping neighbors, said Madison County Commission Chairman Mike Gillespie. “You are the best of the best, you need to keep that in mind,” he said.
Terashi said Toyota’s mission is to be “the most admired company in town” and provide high-quality, safe products. “We want to be the best.”
There have been some challenging times for the automaker and its employees, Terashi said. Most recently, the March 11 earthquake and tsunami which devastated parts of Japan caused parts shortages and led to nonproduction days at the Huntsville plant and others. Toyota resumed full production at all of its North American plants earlier this month.
“We couldn’t have reached this point without the assistance of everyone here,” he said.