Despite its status as the world's biggest and most successful carmaker, Toyota is far from immune to the effects of the slowing American economy and rising fuel prices. In fact, the Japanese giant has forecasted a 27% slump in profits for this financial year and this pressure has led to the decision to postpone the launch of a new plant in Mississippi until May 2010.

The new Tupelo plant will be responsible for building Highlander SUVs but the downturn in sales for such vehicles has got Toyota rethinking its original plans. In addition to the plant delay, Toyota has also confirmed that it will build around 30,000 less units than originally planned - dropping from 150,000 units to just 120,000.

Executives are optimistic about the future and expect production at the plant will increase to its full potential eventually as the American economy recovers from the current downward cycle. The $1.3 billion dollar Tupelo site is expected to employ around 2,000 workers and currently Toyota is scouring the U.S. in hopes of finding recruits in time, reports Automotive News.

The delay in opening the plant will also allow Toyota to accommodate the mid-cycle revisions of the Highlander that were due in 2010 shortly after the plant was due to open, meaning that the plant would have had to make significant changes after a short amount of time to accommodate the changes.

Toyota has previously been forced to cut back production of its Tundra and Sequoia SUV's in light of poor truck sales in the U.S., and the latest fiasco with the Highlander plant shows just how difficult manufacturers are finding it to succeed in the current business climate and anti-SUV movement.