Toyota announced yesterday that it would relocate the headquarters of its U.S. arm from Torrance, California, to Plano, Texas.
Left unaddressed in the announcement was the fact that the Japanese carmaker, known for its green image and its pioneering Prius hybrid range of 50-mpg cars, is moving from a state that has aggressively cut auto emissions to the one with the highest greenhouse-gas emissions of all 50 states plus D.C.
Toyota Motor Sales headquarters in Torrance, California
As a piece in Ward's Auto pointed out yesterday, Texas has the worst overall air quality of any state, and its governor Rick Perry has said he does not believe in climate change, an accepted scientific consensus.
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In fact, Perry sued the EPA in 2010 over its efforts to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide after that greenhouse gas was declared a pollutant.
Toyota said it will make the move over three years, and also expand the Toyota Technical Center it has operated outside Detroit since 1977.
Company relocations are not uncommon; Nissan's U.S. operations moved from southern California to Nashville, Tennessee, several years ago.
But given the high-efficiency legacy of the Toyota Prius lineup, now in its 15th year of U.S. sales, the move to Texas might be perceived as a step backward from a company with a longstanding reputation as one that works aggressively to cut vehicle emissions.
Texas legislator Pete Gallego (D-Alpine) unveils an 80 mph speed limit sign
In a response to questions from Green Car Reports yesterday, John Hanson, Toyota's national manager for advanced technology and business communications, wrote:
"Toyota has been and will remain a champion of low-energy transportation and green initiatives. Centralizing its North American operations is designed to take advantage of proximity, interactivity and operational efficiency."
Moving from Torrance to Texas, Hanson continued, "will actually enhance" the company's "well-earned industry environmental leadership" and its ability to meet both the California zero-emission vehicle mandate and national fuel-economy standards.
Its new suburban office campus in Plano, Toyota said, will be "a showcase of environmental sustainability."
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He also noted that a few of its Texas dealers have LEED-certified buildings at their facilities.
UPDATE: Asked for examples that would specifically demonstrate how the move will reduce Toyota's overall emissions footprint or cut its energy consumption, Hanson responded:
The simplest way of putting it is that our entire North American work process will be significantly more integrated, coordinated, efficient and effective, with engineering, development and manufacturing, sales and marketing, finance working together.
Rather than have multiple isolated cultures in geographically distant locations, we will have all under one roof. It’s the Obeya (big office/one room) expanded to a major national HQ campus and it will help us improve every facet of our business operations, individually and collectively (the three bullets). And that includes enhancing our industry leadership position in reducing our carbon footprint.
Over the years, each North American affiliate (TMS, TEMA, TMA, TFS) has evolved its own signature culture within the Toyota Way. We saw a need for a new, neutral environment, where one culture was not seen as dominant.
Rather than move everyone to Torrance, or Ann Arbor, a new location was chosen where everyone starts with a new, shared focus in what will be a model working environment. We found it in Plano, Texas.
Austin, Texas (by Flickr user milpool79 via Wikimedia)
Much of the commentary following the company's announcement has centered around the costs of doing business in California, which has a number of longstanding environmental regulations that Texas does without.
But California's efforts to clean its air and limit its energy consumption over the decades have succeeded remarkably well.
Anyone who remembers the photochemical smog that choked the Los Angeles Basin from the 1950s through the 1980s will marvel at the clearer skies there, while California is the sole state whose per-capita power consumption has stayed steady over the past two decades.
Neither is the case in Texas, which has substantial air pollution and steadily rising household energy usage.
As the Ward's post suggests in its conclusion, "If the No.1 Japanese automaker really did pull the plug on its Torrance operations for tax reasons, we’ll know [which] 'green' status really counts in Toyota City."
Asian automakers that currently remain headquartered in Southern California include Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, and Mitsubishi.