Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi (TMMMS) rolled a bright and shiny new Corolla off the production line in Blue Springs last week around midday and, following final quality check, loaded it for shipment to a customer in Mexico. On any other day, this would have been just another one of the 700 Corollas produced that day, but this one was different.
This Barcelona Red Metallic Corolla had its very own celebration at the end of the line to mark the fact that it was the 500,000th Corolla produced at TMMMS since the plant began production in October, 2011 – making it the fastest that any plant in the U.S. has ever achieved a half-million vehicles produced. Toyota plant officials were very quick to note that this was – as they called it – a testament to the 2,000 hardworking team members who have answered increasing consumer demand for Corolla since the plant opened.
Corolla is one of Toyota’s leading products around the world and in the U.S. in particular. Since its introduction in 1968, Corolla has sold more than 10 million Corollas in the U.S. and 40 million worldwide. Corolla is – hands down – the small car market leader in the U.S. selling right at 340,000 in 2014. With the sales numbers now posted for January of 2015, Corolla continues that leadership selling nearly 28,000 vehicles – a full 30 percent more units sold than each of the next three brands.
Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi is just one of nine manufacturing and/or assembly plants that have produced more than 21 million Toyota vehicles in the U.S. since 1986. With direct and indirect employment nationally of over 365,000 team members, Toyota has established themselves solidly as a company committed to producing vehicles where they are sold.
In Blue Springs, Miss. – near Memphis, Tenn. – the Toyota plant employs 2,000 full and part-time team members producing 180,000 Corollas annually (the only product produced at TMMMS). Corollas produced at TMMMS are shipped to customers all across North America. Last year, in recognition of the performance of the Blue Springs team, Toyota selected TMMMS to be the sole production location for Corolla service and repair parts in North America. Note: Corollas are also produced at a Toyota plant in Canada to meet the North American demand.
Toyota is a significant presence in Northeast Mississippi – not only for its economic impact in the form of the 2,000 jobs in the plant but also from the jobs (1,700) and purchases from the 15 locally based (Mississippi) suppliers. Toyota investment to date in Mississippi is more than $1.26 billion in plant, equipment and services. At the plant level, TMMMS has contributed more than $2 million to local non-profits with TMMMS team members volunteering more than 14,000 hours last year to local agencies in Northeast Mississippi.
We were present last week at TMMMS for the production of the 500,000th Corolla and were given the rare opportunity to tour the plant floor with access to team members from metal stamping, assembly, quality and management. As plant officials pointed out, the success of TMMMS is all about the team members and their commitment to building the very best Corolla possible. Our random conversations with TMMMS team members confirm that fact.
Following the tour we had a question and answer period with Fred Volf, Vice President, Manufacturing, where we talked some more about team commitment and Toyota quality. There were two areas he mentioned that we felt were significant. One is how Toyota operates the plant and schedules its team members. TMMMS works only two shifts per day plus some overtime when called for, not only out of respect for the team members that gives them a reliable work schedule, but also to insure that sufficient time for scheduled or emergency maintenance and repair is available to support the plant at a continuous 95 percent uptime level.
The other point Volf made was on product quality where he shared that, in addition to their highly disciplined adherence to training, process and quality, they also randomly pull five Corolla vehicles from the end of the line each day. Taken to a separate area, they are completely disassembled and inspected to identify any material or production process defects promptly for immediate corrective action in the plant or by a supplier.
To insure that Toyota has the very best and highly skilled workers available in the area, TMMMS, as they do at other locations in the U.S, Toyota worked closely with the local Itawamba Community College to develop an Advanced Manufacturing Technician associate’s degree program that covers the key elements necessary for a Northeast Mississippi worker to train for and obtain a position as a team member at TMMMS. Subjects taught include robotics, electro mechanics, fluid power, mechanics and fabrication. The program enables a candidate to blend two full days of instruction at the college each week with three days of work experience onsite at TMMMS. During the two year program, candidates earn $16.50 per hour and, upon graduation, can apply for positions that start at $19.56 per hour.
As a result of that program, TMMMS has been able to train and maintain a very stable full-time workforce in Northeast Mississippi with over 94 percent of team members having been hired from Mississippi and over 80 percent living an hour or less drive time from the plant.
Volf went on to note that – to meet the increasing demand for the Corolla, TMMMS has a current rated production capacity of 200,000 vehicles annually. With their strong commitment to training a quality workforce locally, they fully expect they will have the team members necessary to support that growth.