If all goes as planned, this February the workers at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama (TMMAL) in Huntsville will watch as their 5 millionth engine rolls off the assembly line. The event, says spokesperson Kimberly Ogle, will be the plant’s latest milestone.
“We hit our 4 millionth last September, ” says Ogle. “We ended 2016 with approximately 690, 000 engines produced, a 10 percent increase over 2015.”
The workers at TMMAL manufacture 4-cylinder, V6 and V8 engines for the Camry sedan, the Sequoia, RAV4 and Highlander sport utility vehicles and the Tacoma and Tundra pickup trucks. It has been the only Toyota engine plant in the world to manufacture all three engine types inside the same facility. Today, the Toyota engine plant employs about 1, 500 workers, Ogle says.
“We are basically building about 3, 000 engines a day, ” says Tom Cashin, the administrative affairs manager for TMMAL. “So our increased capacity helps us to achieve those milestones now.”
By the time TMMAL produces that 5 millionth engine, David Fernandes will already have spent a month as the Alabama facility’s new president. Fernandes, who took the reins as president on Jan. 3, became the second American to take the top spot at TMMAL since its 2001 groundbreaking. He succeeded the plant’s first American president, Jim Bolte, who has accepted a new job as vice president of manufacturing efficiency for Toyota Motor North America (TMNA) Inc. Bolte had been the plant’s president since 2009.
Fernandes started his career at Toyota in 1998 as a group leader at the company’s West Virginia plant. Afterward, he led production engineering at Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America and later was general manager at Toyota Kentucky.
Fernandes’ and Bolte’s promotions were among several executive changes that Toyota Motor North America announced in December as part of the company’s “One Toyota” plan to “enhance regional autonomy, self-reliance and responsibility” in order, they say, to help speed up decision making and to put the company in a better position for sharing best practices, among other benefits.
“I am grateful and humbled for the opportunity to lead Toyota Alabama as president, ” Fernandes said in a written statement. “In 2017, we will focus on continuous improvement of daily operations and supporting our team members who are committed to meeting customer demand with the highest quality engines.”
Under Bolte’s leadership, Toyota expanded the TMMAL facility four times. The latest expansion brought Toyota’s investments at the plant to more than $864 million and added a new V-6 production line, which, Ogle says, has allowed the plant to build more fuel-efficient engines with reduced emissions and increased performance.
One of the most significant features of the latest expansion, Ogle says, involves the company’s environmental efficiency activities in the plant. The effort is part of a nationwide environmental sustainability initiative by Toyota that focuses on promoting biodiversity, manufacturing hybrid models for lower carbon emissions, reducing water usage in its factories and reducing, reusing and recycling nonregulated waste.
“We’re continually looking for ways to reduce our environmental footprint, specifically as it relates to the reduction of water use, energy and waste reduction, ” Ogle says.
The new building, for example, has more LED lighting and solar panels to reduce energy usage, she says. They have also installed a unit to collect rainwater and a pumping station that moves that water to the plant where the water is treated and used in plant operations.
In February, 2016, managers and workers at TMMAL marked the 15th anniversary of the announcement of Toyota’s engine plant in Madison County. “We’re really proud to call Alabama home, ” she says, “and very grateful for the continued support.”
Gail Short is a freelance contributor to Business Alabama. She is based in Birmingham.
Text by GAIL ALLYN SHORT