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Production will start in phases beginning with its Apollo line, which will produce the (Toyota) Corolla Cross, above.

Despite COVID delays, Mazda Toyota production to begin this year

Despite delays caused by COVID-19 and some construction hurdles, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing in Huntsville-annexed Limestone County expects to begin production this year.

“We are still set to begin production before the end of 2021,” said Jessica Luther, external affairs specialist for Mazda Toyota Manufacturing (MTM).

As of last week, the joint venture had hired 2,100 employees, according to Luther.

“However, at full production, MTM will employ up to 4,000 team members — approximately 3,000 of whom will be production team members,” she said. “We are currently in the middle of a two-year phased initial hiring process.”

As originally announced in January 2018, the plant was to cost $1.6 billion and employ 4,000 employees to eventually produce 300,000 vehicles per year. Its employment and production numbers have not changed, but the total investment has increased to $2.3 billion.

Luther said applicants need not have a manufacturing background. Advertised production team jobs list a starting wage of $17 per hour, with a top rate of $23 per hour, plus health insurance and retirement benefits.

Candidates should apply online at mazdatoyota.com. Applications will be followed by an onsite interview and a “hands-on Day of Work assessment,” Luther said. If those steps are completed successfully, the candidate “will be subject to a drug screen and background check before joining us for their in-person orientation.”

The Mazda Toyota plant covers 3.7 million square feet. Alabama produces the fifth highest number of automobiles in the nation, and once Mazda Toyota production begins it could become the second or third highest-producing state, according to Greg Canfield, head of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“Though we are producing both vehicles on separate lines, our team members are part of our Mazda Toyota Manufacturing team, not employees of Toyota or Mazda,” Luther said.

The Toyota line, named Apollo, will open first, followed by the Discovery line for Mazda.

“Production will start in phases beginning with its Apollo line, which will produce the (Toyota) Corolla Cross. Following that will be the Discovery production line, which will produce the new Mazda SUV product. After a ramp-up period, MTM will add a second shift for each production line,” Luther said. “Once in full production, both the Apollo and Discovery lines will work two shifts, Monday-Friday.”

According to Luther, original plans to begin production in the spring of this year were primarily pushed back due to COVID.

“Many COVID-related safety and health measures have been implemented to keep the planned start of production on schedule according to the revised plan,” she said. “… We’ve also organized successful COVID-19 vaccination events onsite for our team members to further protect our team members’ health and safety.”

Delays were also experienced in building the paint shop, Mazda Toyota officials have said.

The most recent Mazda Toyota supplier to announce plans to locate in Limestone County is KC Logistics, according to Bethany Shockney, president, and CEO of the Limestone County Economic Development Association.

“They are a supplier to Mazda Toyota for trucking and logistics,” she said, and will be located next to TBAKI, which will make seats for Mazda Toyota. “KC Logistics will be transporting the seats from TBAKI, out to MTM,” Shockney said.

Earlier this month, Madison Metal Processing — a joint venture between Toyota Tsusho America Inc., Southern Mobility Products and SteelSummit Holdings — announced it would locate a $40 million factory in Madison County. The venture will supply steel blanks, the precursor to automotive surface body parts, to Mazda Toyota. It will also provide steel products to other automotive suppliers.

Shockney said employees for Mazda Toyota and its suppliers are coming from a broad region.

“With MTM, our whole region, and southern middle Tennessee, has supported the automotive skill set,” said Shockney.

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