Buy a gasoline 2012 Toyota Highlander crossover in the U.S., and the chances are it will have been made at Toyota’s Princetown factory in Indiana.
Opt for the more fuel efficient 2012 Toyota Highlander Hybrid model, and your car will have been made a third of the way around the world in Japan.
Not for much longer, says Toyota Motor North America President Yoshimi Inaba. In a speech last night at the Economic Club of Chicago, Inaba explained U.S. market Highlander Hybrids will be made in the U.S. by the end of next year.
Toyota isn't alone either, with other Japanese automakers switching production of green cars from Japan to the U.S. For example, Nissan will begin manufacturing its all-electric Leaf in the U.S. within the year, and Acura has already moved production of its 2012 ILX Hybrid to the U.S.
In order to make the necessary changes to the Princetown plant as well as increase Highlander production volume to 50,000 cars a year by the end of 2013, Toyota will invest $400 million in the Indiana plant.
Producing the new model in the U.S. will also create 400 additional jobs, Inaba said.
2011 Toyota Highlander Hybrid - Driven, May 2011
The move -- partly prompted by the strong yen and weak dollar -- equates to lower production costs and hopefully a lower sticker price for consumers too.
And with gas prices expected to rise in the coming few years, Toyota is hopeful sales of hybrid cars like the Highlander will in line.
There’s more. With production shifted to the U.S., Toyota becomes eligible to apply for a low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Energy under the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program -- which could theoretically help provide funds to retool Toyota’s plant in preparation for building hybrid cars.
(Note: Toyota hasn’t confirmed or denied if this is the case. At the moment, we’re merely pointing out it could be a possibility.)
Finally, there’s an element of national pride to take into account. With more Americans than ever conscious of where their next car was built, Toyota stands to gain the custom of U.S. citizens who will only buy U.S.-made cars.
All told, the movement of Highlander Hybrid production to the U.S. starting with the 2014 model year should be good for everyone, including Toyota and the U.S. economy. And that is a good thing.