Toyota is to shift more production of its petrol Highlander SUV from Japan to the United States as part of the restructuring of its global production to improve profitability, according to media reports.
Citing unnamed sources, Japan’s Kyodo News said that Highlander production will move from its plant in Fukuoka to Indiana and that by localising production for the North American and Latin American markets, Toyota is aiming to make the export-only vehicle more resilient to the impact of a stronger yen.
The carmaker’s subsidiary, Toyota Motor Kyushu, is expected to transfer production of around 2,000 Highlanders a month, to Indiana in August. The SUV went into production at Princeton in October 2009 after being relocated from the mothballed new Mississippi plant originally constructed for it.
After the credit crunch started to bite in mid-2008, Toyota found it had significant overcapacity in North America and began to make changes such as consolidating production of the Tundra full-size pickup – originally built in Indiana – into its then-new Texas factory outside San Antonio, shifting the Highlander to Indiana for its late 2009 output start and planning to complete the then under-construction new Mississippi plant but not fit it out with production equipment until sales recovered. That plant, eventually, will build the Prius for North America.
The Kyushu factory will retain production of the gasoline-electric hybrid version of the Highlander as well as output of models – badged Kluger – for export to Australia, according to the sources.
Toyota Motor Kyushu began manufacturing the Highlander in November 2000.
A Princeton plant spokesman confirmed that more production would be moved from Japan although no timing has been decided.
The Indiana plant also makes the Sequoia sport-utility and Sienna minivan. Toyota sold 83,000 Highlanders in the US last year.