Windsor Star

Slowdown forces Toyota to keep workforce busy

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Toyota, where Press used to work, is famous for never closing assembly plants or laying off employees, among other claims to fame.

But it’s become quite a struggle for the company to keep all of its team members busy. Sales have slumped so badly, even the world’s most successful carmaker doesn’t have enough work to keep everyone on the payroll building cars.

Thousands of Toyota’s North American associates aren’t building cars and trucks these days because of the economic slowdown – but they are still getting paycheques.

In a recent interview, Ray Tanguay, president of Toyota Motor Manufactur­ing Canada Inc. and a member of the company’s worldwide board of management, said the company has reassigned 4,500 of its U.S. assemblers and other employees to training and other duties while the company rides out the downturn.

“We’re trying to be very transparen­t with our team members and our suppliers,” Tanguay said.

“We’re going to invest in them” while the company rides out the rough economic waves.

The 4,500 people had been building pickup trucks and SUVs at Toyota’s three truck plants in Indiana, Texas and Alabama.

Toyota announced a few weeks ago it was postponing the hiring of a second shift at its new RAV4 assembly plant in Woodstock, Ont.

But keeping all those people on payroll in the U.S. was “the toughest decision,” said Tanguay.

The Canadian operations, by comparison, “are very fortunate we have high demand vehicles.”

The Lexus RX 350 and the fuel-efficient Toyota Corolla and Matrix are built at Toyota’s Cambridge assembly plant, “and they are in very short supply right now.”

Sales of the RAV4, which will start coming out of the new Woodstock plant in a few weeks, are up 30 per cent in North America this year, so that plant’s future appears assured despite the postponeme­nt of the second shift.

Tanguay, a graduate of St. Clair College, said nobody in the industry forecast how bad sales would become in North America this year. And like Press, he says there is no clarity to where the industry is going.

“There are a lot of factors. Nobody can give an answer.”

The factors hurting the auto industry sales include the subprime mortgage meltdown in the U.S., declining housing values, higher oil prices and the devalued U.S. dollar — “all these factors have a huge impact on the market.”

“But we had a pretty good ride since 1989,” said Tanguay, putting some perspectiv­e on the cur- rent conditions.

“The market has just been going up. Things don’t always go up.”

The current downturn, he said, “is a little bit of a setback.”

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