Exclusive: Toyota set to approve Mexico plant within weeks - sources
By Maki Shiraki and Joanna Zuckerman Bernstein
TOKYO/MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Toyota Motor (7203.T: Quote) is finalizing plans for its first passenger car assembly plant in Mexico that could be approved by its board as early as next month, according to three people with knowledge of the matter.
The plant would make the popular Corolla compact sedan and begin production in 2019. Based on recent investments by rivals, including Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE: Quote), a new assembly plant would represent an investment of over $1 billion for Toyota.
A green light for the plant would signal an end to a 3-year expansion freeze imposed by the Japanese automaker's president Akio Toyoda, who has blamed aggressive expansion a decade ago for contributing to quality lapses and a 2009 recall crisis.
Toyoda last year asked planners scouting for a site in Mexico to hit 'pause' and review the rationale for the project, executives familiar with the matter said then. He urged executives to squeeze more production from existing factories.
Toyota is the last mass-market automaker without a major production hub in Mexico, which has lured car makers and suppliers through its low labor costs and tariff-free access to the United States, Toyota's largest single market. The Japanese firm has a plant in Mexico's Baja California that produces the Tacoma pickup truck, but it has no passenger car plant.
Last year, Mexican officials pitched half a dozen potential sites for a new plant, and Toyota executives have zeroed in on a site in the central state of Guanajuato, two people with knowledge of the deliberations said.
A delegation of Toyota executives recently spent a week in Guanajuato and remain in talks with local government officials over a potential plot of land that would give the automaker a big enough footprint to expand in the future, a source said.
"We are always evaluating our production capacity in Mexico, and in North America generally, to keep it in line with local market demand, but no such decision has been made at this time," Toyota spokesman Itsuki Kurosu told Reuters. Continued...