Toyota to launch new Highlander six months early, extend Solara productionEnlarge Photo
Despite flagging sales and rising inventories for Toyota’s SUV models in the U.S., the carmaker is planning to start production of the new Highlander six months early in order to keep its Indiana workers busy. Toyota originally planned to begin building the Highlander at its new factory currently under construction near Tupelo, Mississippi, in late 2009 or even early 2010. However, the decision to start production of the next-generation Prius at the Tupelo site
meant that the Highlander needed to be moved.
Speaking with Automotive News
, the vice president of Toyota’s North American engineering and manufacturing arm, Steve St. Angelo, stated that it didn't make sense for Toyota to under utilize its Indiana workers. It made more sense to send the Highlander to Indiana because the tools are ready and there’s enough free capacity to accommodate the increased production, he explained.
Importantly, the decision also means that Toyota won’t have to shed any of its U.S. workforce as it has done back in Japan
. "I don't anticipate us laying off any people," St. Angelo said. "Hopefully - and I can't predict the future - the bad stuff is behind us, and we can stabilize, train and pick up again in a month or so.
In addition, Toyota will continue building its Camry-based Solara (pictured) for another two years despite earlier plans to cease production this month. The change in heart is reportedly due to high customer demand for the vehicle. However production numbers for the Solara only amounted to 28,479 units all up, and with no major updates planned this year’s levels are expected to be even lower.