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With the Big Three teetering on the brink, it’s worth noting that the Toyota plant in San Antonio is still motoring. Oh, what a feeling!
Mon December 1, 2008 6:00 am

As we wait to see whether or not Congress will bail out the Big Three, it’s worth noting that not all American-made cars are manufactured in and around Detroit. Remember the Toyota plant in San Antonio, which opened in 2006? It has no fewer than 1,919 Texans on the payroll, making it one of San Antonio’s largest employers. And unlike GM, Ford, and Chrysler, the Japanese automaker is not sending its CEOs on private jets to Washington, D.C., to ask for handouts, or teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

That’s not to say that Toyota has avoided all of Detroit’s problems. Rather than sticking to the company’s tried-and-true business model—making smaller, cheaper, more fuel-efficient vehicles—it tried to break into the truck market with Tundra pickups, which are manufactured at its plant in San Antonio. Unfortunately, the Tundra gets just fifteen miles to the gallon in the city, so it was not exactly in high demand this year. When sales slumped, the plant was forced to shut down for three months. Incredibly, Toyota decided to keep its employees on the payroll until the plant got up and running again this fall.

That isn’t the only example of the company’s touchy-feely management style. Next door to the San Antonio plant is a 20,000-square-foot, in-house health clinic that offers employees everything from primary care to dentistry to physical therapy. It also includes a lab, facilities for X-rays and sonograms, and a pharmacy. The idea is to emphasize preventative medical care and reduce the number of sick days. UAW, eat your heart out.

During the plant’s three-month-long shutdown, workers volunteered their time in Toyota-run city improvement projects. It was part of something the company calls a “Kaizen and Development Period,” in which workers and management focus on finding ways to incrementally get better, more efficient, and more effective at what they do. (In Japanese, “Kaisan” means “continuous improvement”—a philosophy that Detroit might have benefited from.)

The plant in San Antonio is one of many. Toyota also runs plants in Huntsville, Alabama (882 employees); Princeton, Indiana (4,494 employees); Georgetown, Kentucky (6,974 employees); and Buffalo, West Virginia (1,107 employees). A new plant in Blue Springs, Mississippi, is expected to employ 2,000 employees when production begins in 2010 and will focus exclusively on building the Prius Hybrid. Honda and Nissan have manufacturing plants around the U.S. as well.

Just something to keep in mind the next time you hear about the end of the American auto industry.

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