Sluggish market conditions in the United States are the reason Toyota Motor Corp. is slowing down the launch of its new Highlander crossover plant in Tupelo, Mississippi. Originally scheduled to open in late 2009 with production at 150,000 vehicles per year, Toyota will instead begin production in May 2010 with an expected reduced annual output of 120,000 units a year. Of course, that number will increase if U.S. market conditions improve.

While the slowing economy is a leading reason for the delay, Toyota officials also confirmed that they are facing difficulty hiring skilled labor for the Tupelo project. They are now recruiting from around the country to fill positions in maintenance, along with tool and die engineers. Toyota expects to employ 2,000 workers at Tupelo. This isn't the first time Toyota has faced recruiting issues. When they opened San Antonio in 2004 and 2005, they found themselves challenged to staff the Tundra pickup plant. The Texas plant recently made headlines when Toyota slowed production of the Tundra. For the fiscal year, Toyota is forecasting operating profits to decline by 29-percent.

[Source: Automotive News, subs. req'd]

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