Toyota Alabama is building a legacy in North Alabama

Toyota Alabama builds engines that are shipped to six of its seven Toyota assembly plants across North America

Gov. Kay Ivey participates in the ceremonial torque check on the new twin-turbo V-6 engine built exclusively at Toyota Alabama.

Toyota Alabama launched in Huntsville in 2001 with the construction of a new motor plant. That original facility has now been expanded five times, and production has grown significantly. In addition, the organization has put North Alabama on the map as a vibrant location for automotive manufacturing, helping pave the way for the location of a new Mazda Toyota plant in the area, just about 20 miles down the road.

The state’s original Toyota motor plant, located 10 miles north of downtown Huntsville, now employs more than 1,800 workers and builds engines to be shipped to six of the seven Toyota assembly plants across North America.

Growing and expanding

Production started in Huntsville in 2003 with 300 employees, says Bekah Schmidt, corporate communications analyst at Toyota Motor North America. Over the past two decades, the plant has seen seven major investments, including five building expansions.

Today, Toyota Alabama produces approximately 3,000 engines each day. In 2021, the plant produced 642,000 engines.

Those engines are built to unique specifications for eight different Toyota vehicles. They include the RAV4, Corolla, Corolla Cross, Tacoma, Sequoia, Highlander, Sienna and Tundra. Each of those engines has unique requirements, and as a result, the Toyota Alabama plant manufactures three types of engines, including four-cylinder, V-6 and V-6T.

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While the employee population at Toyota Alabama has grown steadily over the past 20 years, the facility undertook the largest hiring initiative in its history during 2021. Last year, Toyota Alabama added 450 team members to its ranks, Schmidt says.

Ramping up the number of employees was an important priority as the plant readied to begin production on its newly built twin turbo V-6 line. In October 2021, Toyota Alabama started production on the new line, becoming the only supplier of the V-6T engine for the redesigned 2022 Tundra, Schmidt says. In January, the engine plant announced that its V-6T would also be going into the Sequoia. As a result of this building expansion and new line, Toyota Alabama now has the capacity to build 900,000 engines per year.

Managing through challenges

Like all automotive industry plants, Alabama’s Toyota engine plant has faced supply chain uncertainty throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the facility has weathered the storm quite well, as evidenced by its ability to produce almost 700,000 engines in 2021. Leaders attribute the plant’s success throughout a trying time to strong relationships with suppliers and ongoing communication and flexibility — the same strategies they expect to enable their ongoing success.

“The past two years have been unprecedented with the supply chain,” Schmidt says. “As a company, Toyota has invested time and resources to create a stable supply chain and anticipate gaps. Toyota has great relationships with our suppliers; they’re part of the Toyota family. We keep open lines of communication with our suppliers and work together to navigate challenges. The past two years have strengthened our relationships with our suppliers, and the adversity has built greater trust and mutual respect.”

As the industry reexamines its supply chain issues, the geographic location of suppliers may become increasingly important. And with the new Mazda Toyota plant now in production only 20 miles away, Toyota Alabama is proof that location matters: The new plant is a customer of the engine plant, which produces the engine for the new Corolla Cross.

The twin-turbo V-6 engine made at Toyota Alabama.

Preparing for the future

During its first 20 years in Alabama, Toyota Motor Manufacturing has undergone almost constant growth and expansion. As a result, the plant has become increasingly valuable to the company’s overall business. “Toyota Alabama produces one-third of all Toyota engines on the road in North America, which makes Toyota Alabama a crucial part of the Toyota supply chain,” Schmidt says.

As a valuable player in the automaker’s global strategy, Toyota Alabama is also an important part of the company’s future. For example, as Toyota prioritizes its electrification strategy, the Alabama plant is at the forefront, Schmidt says. In fact, three out of four of the engine lines operating at the plant produce both a hybrid engine and a combustion engine.

Moving forward, electric vehicles will become increasingly important to the automotive industry and to Toyota — and its Alabama engine plant will be able to lead the way.

“My focus for 2022 is our family of team members and their skill development,” says Jason Puckett, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama. “As electrification changes mobility, our team members will be the future and the key to Toyota’s future success in Alabama.”

Nancy Mann Jackson is a Madison-based freelance contributor to Business Alabama.

This article appeared in the March 2022 issue of Business Alabama.

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