Toyota celebrates production of 10 millionth unit
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - State and company officials praised the 1,300 workers at the Toyota Motor Manufacturing plant in Buffalo Wednesday, as the plant celebrated production of its 10 millionth powertrain engine unit.
The plant, which began production in 1998, is now the first Toyota plant outside of Japan to produce 10 million powertrain units -- the components, including engines and automatic transmissions, which produce energy and make a vehicle go.
The Buffalo plant currently produces engine parts for nine different Toyota and Lexus models assembled at plants across North America.
Every 20 seconds, a Toyota vehicle rolls off a North American assembly line containing a powertrain product produced in Buffalo.
"West Virginia has been and will continue to be an important part of Toyota's efforts to localize production in North America," said Yogi Suzuki, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing, West Virginia, Inc.
One of every four Toyota vehicles on the road today contains a Buffalo-manufactured product. The combined output of all engines produced at the plant since 1998 tops 1 billion horsepower.
Suzuki said if you lined up every part produced at the plant since production began in 1998, the line would stretch for more than 3,000 miles.
Officials said the key to that success is the plant's 1,300-strong workforce.
"Our team members' focus on quality, safety and their outstanding commitment to continuous improvement and teamwork is second-to-none," Suzuki said.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., called the plant's workforce "the greatest selling tool we have in West Virginia," because of their quality, safety and production record.
Jim Lentz, CEO of Toyota Motor North America, said his office constantly receives letters from satisfied customers who say their engine drives as well at 100,000 miles as the day it left the showroom.
He said that was a testament to the quality of work at plants like Buffalo.
Toyota recently announced it would expand Lexus production in the United States as part of the company's strategy to localize production in markets around the world.
Lentz said the success of operations like the one at Buffalo have helped company officials pursue that strategy. And he said the amount the company has invested in the Buffalo plant shows Toyota is committed to the local economy.
Toyota initially announced in 1996 that it would spend $400 million to build the Buffalo plant, which employed about 350 people when it opened.
Since then, Toyota has invested nearly $900 million in seven different expansion projects, bringing the total investment to the plant to $1.3 billion and increasing the size of its workforce by nearly 1,000.
Lentz said if you consider all of the secondary jobs at other companies that are tied to the plant's production, production at the Buffalo plant accounts for more than 10,000 jobs throughout the region.
In addition to jobs, the company has also contributed nearly $6.5 million to organizations throughout the community and state, including a $32,500 donation made to 13 schools in Putnam, Mason, Cabell and Kanawha counties Wednesday.
"I think it's safe to say Toyota loves West Virginia and we're here to stay," Lentz said.
Those words warmed the heart of Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who began trying to convince Toyota Chairman Dr. Shoichiro Toyoda in January 1986 to get the company to invest in West Virginia.
Toyoda and Rockefeller were side-by-side Wednesday as the plant celebrated.
"This plant has just enormous meaning to me in every single way," Rockefeller said.
Rockefeller said the Japanese have an exceptional work ethic, one he believes matches well with that found in West Virginia. He said the Buffalo plant and the way it has grown over the year was proof of that.
"What started as a $400 million plant with 350 people is now up to almost 1,300 and an investment of $1.3 billion - that's almost never happened before in our state," Rockefeller said.
"We've went through seven expansions and it's a workforce that's comparable with anywhere in the world -- in fact, better."
Contact writer Jared Hunt at email@example.com or 304-348-4836.
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