Look for a "Made in America" badge to start showing up on Toyota's top-selling hybrid-electric vehicle, the Prius. The Japanese maker will begin producing a version of the high-mileage sedan at a new plant in Blue Springs, Mississippi, starting in 2010, the company has confirmed.
Like its Big Three U.S. competitors, Toyota is trying to adapt, as quickly as possible, to the dramatic shift in the American market driven by record-high oil prices. While the Asian maker is racing to boost production of hybrids and high-mileage small cars, it plans to suspend, for three months, production of the slow-selling, full-sized Tundra pickup, which is built in San Antonio, Texas, as well as the Sequoia SUV, which is assembled in Princeton, Indiana. Both plants will halt production on August 8. Additionally, Toyota will stop production of the Tundra in Princeton next spring, and consolidate assembly of the truck in San Antonio.
Sales of full-size pickups, long one of America's largest product segments, has plunged from about 11 percent of the market at the beginning of the year to just 8 percent in recent weeks.
Toyota sales fell 21 percent in June, an even sharper downturn than the U.S. industry's overall 18 percent decline. The company's slide reflects both the slump in demand for light trucks - and a shortage of hybrids and other high-mileage products. By adding Prius capacity in the States, Toyota hopes to better meet booming demand.
"The truck market continues to worsen, so unfortunately we must temporarily suspend production," said Jim Wiseman, vice president for Toyota Motor engineering and Manufacturing North America. "But this good news about production mix demonstrates our long-term commitment to our North American operations and to our team members, suppliers and communities where our plants are located."
Toyota already produces a hybrid version of its Camry sedan in the United States.