Toyota plans $500M upgrade at Princeton plant-WEB ONLY

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Toyota Motor Corp. plans to spend about $500 million to upgrade its Indiana assembly plant in Princeton to accommodate production of its Highlander sport-utility vehicle.

Bloomberg News reported the investment today. It discovered the plans in a Securities and Exchange Commission document filed by Toyota late last month.

Japan’s largest carmaker announced last July it would begin assembling the mid-size SUV at the plant in southwestern Indiana in fall 2009. Toyota previously planned to make the Highlander at a plant scheduled to be built in Mississippi, but that plant instead will make the Prius hybrid.

Toyota spokeswoman Kelly Dillon said the plant is not being expanded and no additional jobs are expected.

The Princeton facility currently assembles the Sequoia full-size sport-utility vehicle and the Sienna minivan. The 11-year-old plant produced Tundra pickup trucks until last year when Toyota consolidated production at its new pickup plant in San Antonio, Texas.

Toyota’s $500 million upgrade to the Princeton plant represents the company’s biggest investment this year, according to Bloomberg. It’s more than double the $230 million Toyota spent to add a Camry assembly line in 2007 at affiliate Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd’s Subaru plant in Lafayette. And it’s also nearly as much as the $550 million that rival Honda Motor Co. spent to construct a new plant in Greensburg that opened last year.

The investment is for “retooling of the [plant] to build Highlander and Sequoia on the same line, as well as supplier tooling for Highlander,” Mike Goss, a spokesman for Toyota’s North American manufacturing unit, told Bloomberg.

Currently, all Highlanders sold in the United States are exported from Japan. Production at the Princeton factory will start late this year.

The plant’s 4,200-person work force is down about 300 since Toyota offered Princeton employees $20,000 payments and other incentives to voluntarily leave their jobs. Dillon attributed the reduction to normal attrition and transfers to other plants, as well as the buyout.Sales of the Highlander plunged 41 percent in the U.S. in the first half of the year.

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