Toyota site in Blue Springs, Mississippi, from Flickr user CochranForSenate
When gas hit $4 a gallon last summer and Prius sales were booming, Toyota announced plans to build the 2010 Toyota Prius in a brand-new factory in Blue Springs, near Tupelo, Mississippi. Then last December, with gas prices plummeting and the economy in freefall, the company put its plans on indefinite hold.
Now, a Toyota adviser has confirmed that he expects the plant to open when the economy turns around, saying Wednesday there's no truth to the idea that Toyota would walk away from its $300 million investment in the half-completed assembly plant.
Dennis Cuneo, who had been a senior vice president at the company, currently advises Toyota and its suppliers. Speaking to a crowd at Itawamba Community College, he described the move as purely a financial one. With global car sales down 20 percent or more, all companies are conserving their cash and retrenching.
Moreover, with hybrids piling up on dealer lots, Toyota can supply North America from its two existing Prius plants in Japan.
The plant had originally been intended to build the Toyota Highlander crossover sport utility vehicle. Industry observers were surprised when the company swiftly changed gears last summer, dumping plans for the Highlander and switching the plant to the Prius.
It makes sense, though, since the US is the largest single market for the cars. Toyota has said it hopes to sell 180,000 of the 2010 Prius.
So if you want a US-built hybrid, for the moment you have three choices: the Toyota Camry Hybrid, the Ford Escape Hybrid (and its twins the Mercury Mariner Hybrid and Mazda Tribute Hybrid), and the Ford Fusion Hybrid (and its twin, the Mercury Milan Hybrid). For the Prius, you'll have to wait a little longer.
2010 Toyota Prius