After a slow start due to the recession and a disturbing halt in production due to the Japan tsunami, the San Antonio Toyota plant is now employing more people and producing more trucks than it ever has in its nearly seven years of existence, 1200 WOAI news reports.
In fact, the plant is producing more Tundra and Tacoma pickups today than Toyota officials said its capacity would be when the plant opened its doors to production in November of 2006.
"We are working daily overtime to try to keep up the demand as best we can," Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas President Chris Nielsen told 1200 WOAI news.
In fact, in 2012, the south side plant turned out 219,000 pickups and Nielsen says there is every reason to believe that production will exceed that figure in 2013. When the plant opened, Toyota officials said its capacity was 200,000 trucks a year.
Not long after the plant opened, the U.S. recession hit the construction industry particularly hard, leading to a huge drop in demand for the heavy duty Tundra trucks which were the plant's only product at the time.
In fact, many analysts questioned the wisdom of building the plant in Texas, as production slipped further. Production had to be completely halted in late 2008 as Tundra pickups piled up on dealer lots, and Toyota struggled to maintain employment for the work force, which then was about 1800.
Then came the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in 2010. It led to major shortages in the precision parts needed to manufacture Tundra trucks. Frequently during 2010, the local plant put workers on furlough. Seeing Toyota workers painting YMCA's and rebuilding playgrounds became a common sight around San Antonio as the plant struggled to keep its employees and survive the downturn.
It turned out to be a good decision. All Tundra production had been moved to San Antonio as a vote of confidence in 2008, probably the decision which kept the plant from closing entirely. Late in 2009, Toyota announced it was moving about half of the production of its Tacoma pickup from California to San Antonio, as bankrupt General Motors pulled out of a partnership with Toyota.
And now, Toyota is finally seeing the fruits of its faith in San Antonio pay off. Both the Tundra and Tacoma are setting sales records, with sales of both the mid sixed Tacoma and the full sized Tundra up by double digits each month since the start of last year.
Nielsen says the employee count at the San Antonio plant is now above 2800, with an equal number working at the suppliers which ring the plant, some of which had toyed with potential bankruptcy during the local plant's hard times. He is working two shifts at full production, with plentiful overtime, and Nielsen is not ruling out the possibility of a third shift.
"You know, it's always possible," he said. "We look at all types of scenarios, including adding shifts at some point, but right now our primary method is daily overtime."
Buoyed in part by the high quality of San Antonio production, Toyota is moving more production to the U.S. The company recently announced plans to move Lexus production to a Toyota facility in Kentucky.
Does that mean San Antonio might get more models to produce? Nielsen says he and his workers have their plates pretty full right now.
"I think we really want to focus on producing the world's best trucks," he said. "Right here in San Antonio."