Toyota to Make Prius in the U.S.


Toyota Motor of Japan said Thursday that it would build its popular
gas-electric hybrid sedan, the Prius, in the United States for the
first time as it tries to meet surging demand and struggles with
falling sales of big trucks.

Starting in 2010, Toyota plans to make the Prius at a new factory in
Blue Springs, Miss., that was originally intended to assemble sport
utility vehicles. Toyota said shifting production to the Blue Springs
plant, which is under construction, will help it alleviate shortages
of the Prius, which gets an average of 46 miles a gallon and has
months-long waiting lists at most dealers.

Toyota also said it would stop building its two largest vehicles, the
Tundra pickup and Sequoia sport-utility vehicle, for three months
before permanently halting production of the Tundra next spring at one
of two plants that make it.

Plummeting demand for trucks has forced the Detroit automakers to
announce more plant closings and layoffs. Toyota’s announcements came
after its United States sales fell 6.8 percent in the first half of
the year.

Sales of the Prius declined 33.7 percent as a result of tight
supplies. Tundra sales were down 52.9 percent in June, though stocks
of the truck are plentiful.

“The truck market continues to worsen, so unfortunately we must
temporarily suspend production,” Jim Wiseman, vice president for
external affairs for Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North
America, said in a statement. “By using this downturn as an
opportunity to develop team members and improve our operations, we
hope to emerge even stronger.”

The Detroit automakers have frequently shut down plants for several
weeks or months to pare inventories of slow-selling vehicles, but it
is a rare for Toyota to do so. The company introduced the Tundra in
early 2007 as its first serious entry into the full-size truck market
and built a factory in San Antonio, Tex., in the heart of pickup
country, specifically to make it.

Both Tundra plants, in San Antonio and Princeton, Ind., will shut down
from Aug. 8 until early November, as will a plant in Huntsville, Ala.,
that makes engines for the Tundra and Sequoia. Workers will continue
to be paid during the closings, Toyota said.

In the spring, Toyota will consolidate Tundra production in San
Antonio and start building its Highlander S.U.V. in Princeton instead
of Mississippi, where it originally had planned to do so.

Mr. Wiseman said the changes show that Toyota still has a “long-term
commitment to our North American operations” despite the weakened