May 17, 2005

Toyota Will Build New Hybrid Camry at U.S. Plant

GEORGETOWN, Ky. (AP) -- Toyota Motor Corporation announced plans to begin producing a gasoline-electric hybrid version of its popular Camry model in late 2006 at its largest North American plant.

The Japanese automaker said it will have capacity to build about 48,000 of the environmentally friendly vehicles each year. It represents Toyota's first hybrid auto production in North America.

"Once the decision was reached to make a hybrid version of our best-selling vehicle "” the Camry "” the Georgetown plant was the natural choice," said Gary Convis, president of the plant.

Toyota said it plans a $10 million investment in the Georgetown plant, but said it expects capacity and employment to stay the same. The plant 12 miles north of Lexington employs about 7,000 workers and can build up to 500,000 vehicles per year.

Hybrid production will take place on the plant's existing lines, the automaker said. No new construction is planned. The $10 million will go mainly for equipment modifications and employee training.

Toyota said specific details about the Camry hybrid will be released later.

California and Canada also made a push to land Toyota's first North American hybrid production.

Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who is on a trade mission to Japan, participated in Toyota's announcement by satellite.He said Kentucky will now be making the most technologically advanced automobile in America.

"Kentucky is first in thoroughbreds and will now be first in hybrids," Fletcher said.

Toyota opened the Georgetown plant in 1987 and it sparked a boom in automotive suppliers in the state. Toyota President Fujio Cho ran the Georgetown plant for its first seven years.

The 7.5 million square foot plant produces the Camry, Avalon and Solara models. Toyota's North American headquarters is in Erlanger, which is in the northern Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati.

Hybrid cars get better mileage than regular gasoline powered cars because the hybrid switches back and forth between an electric motor and a gasoline engine.

Kentucky lawmakers passed tax legislation earlier this year allowing a manufacturer of hybrid vehicles to recover training and some equipment costs.

Lisa Garrett, 34, of Georgetown, has been a Toyota employee for 16 years. She expects to be painting bumpers on the new hybrid Camrys. She said the announcement was a vote of confidence in plant workers and would help guarantee job security.

"It shows us the faith the Japanese in our workers in Kentucky. We've proved we can produce a quality vehicle," she said.

Besides the planned hybrid Camry, Toyota also produces the hybrid Prius and Lexus RX400h luxury hybrid sport-utility. Next month the Toyota Highlander hybrid midsize SUV goes on sale in the United States.

Toyota, however, said Tuesday it is investigating complaints from hybrid Prius owners about the cars stalling in the United States.

Jim Press, a Toyota Motor Sales executive who joined the news conference from Washington, D.C., said the company was checking into reports of about 13 vehicles with stalling problems.

"We don't have any concrete information," Press said.

The hybrid Prius has been a hugely popular model, with some people buying used cars and paying above the advertised prices for new ones. Automotive experts have said it is the first economy car with a higher resale value.


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