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The Toyota Corolla Cross SUV.

Mazda Toyota to build entry-level SUV Corolla Cross at Limestone plant; hiring continues

HUNTSVILLE — Mazda Toyota Manufacturing revealed Wednesday that the first of the two all-new vehicles it will build at its $2.3 billion Limestone County plant near the western edge of Madison will be an option for the fast-growing compact crossover market.

Mark Brazeal, Mazda Toyota’s vice president of administration, described the Toyota Corolla Cross as an entry-level SUV, which will be built starting later this year on the plant’s Apollo production line. A production launch date hasn’t been announced as the plant continues to build its workforce, and a yet-to-be-announced Mazda vehicle that will also be built there will be unveiled at a later date.

The Corolla Cross announcement is “another milestone in our journey here in north Alabama,” Brazeal said at a program held in the plant’s central office building on Greenbrier Parkway. The event followed Toyota’s own announcement earlier in the day.

The vehicle will be “showing up in dealers’ lots later this fall,” according to Brazeal.

The announcement coincides with what Brazeal called a “large-scale hiring phase” at the plant.

“We’re right at 2,000 (employees) right now,” he said later. “We’re hiring new team members every week,” at an average of 50 to 100 each week.

Mazda Toyota plans to hire about 2,000 more employees, eventually reaching up to 4,000 workers once production is in full operation next year. The plant has the capacity to produce 300,000 vehicles a year, and production will be evenly split between the two models.

Alabama Department of Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield noted that the first steel column was raised at the Mazda Toyota site in the Greenbrier community in April 2019 and now, when arriving there, “it’s staggering, the magnitude of this facility.” The plant has 3.1 million square feet of space.

Canfield said Alabama is the fifth-largest U.S. automotive producing state and, with the addition of vehicles made at the Mazda Toyota plant, the state could become the second or third largest producer.

After sitting behind the steering wheel of the vehicle after the announcement, Canfield said he was impressed with the amount of head room and the comfort of the entry-level SUV.

“I think they’ve got a winner,” he said.

According to a March article in Car and Driver magazine, which ranked the compact crossovers on the market, the vehicle segment — other than full-size pickup trucks — that’s dominating U.S. vehicle sales is compact SUVs.

Toyota said the vehicle will be available in front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, and has a 169-horsepower, 2.0-liter engine. The Corolla Cross has an estimated 32 combined miles per gallon for the front-wheel drive model and an estimated 30 combined miles per gallon for the all-wheel drive model.

“We expect it will have industry-leading cargo space” compared to other SUVs of its size, Brazeal said.

Mazda Toyota is a joint venture partnership between Mazda Motor Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp., and the project investment grew to more than $2.3 billion when the parent companies announced an additional $830 million commitment last summer.

The production launch was delayed from this spring due to pre-pandemic construction delays of the paint shop and also pandemic-related issues including travel and business restrictions that affected training, equipment and machinery.

The company was able to overcome challenges, and “hard work brought us to this moment,” said Hiro Kagohashi, Mazda Toyota’s executive vice president. “We wouldn’t be here today,” without the support of the community and on-site and near-site supplier partners, he said.

Those supplier companies are Aldez, Carter Express, DaikyoNichikawa US, Green Metals, Madison Metal Processing, Magnolia Automotive Services, Mazda North American Operations, Nippon Express, Penstone, Systems Automotive Interiors Alabama, Toyota Boshoku AKI USA, Toyota Boshoku Mississippi, Toyota Logistics Services, Vuteq and Y-tec Keylex Toyotetsu Alabama.

Lyndsay Ferguson, Mazda Toyota’s human resources manager, said recently that production will occur in phases, beginning with the Apollo production line for the Toyota SUV. The Discovery line will follow to produce the new Mazda SUV. Ferguson said that after a ramp-up period, a second shift will be added for each production line.

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