Could Toyota's Move to Plano Help San Antonio Plant?


By Peter Hubbard

When Toyota Motor Co. announced it was moving its national headquarters to Plano, Texas, last year, the largest cheer probably went up from real estate agents and home builders in and around the north Dallas suburb. After all, financial experts estimated that the move — announced in April 2014 — amounted to roughly a $7 billion financial boon to Plano and surrounding communities.

But the second largest cheer probably erupted some 300 miles south, emanating from the roughly 6,000 employees at Toyota's San Antonio manufacturing plant where it builds the full-size Tundra and midsize Tacoma pickup trucks.

This isn't the only milestone event that's impacted the giant San Antonio plant in the last couple of years. In September 2013, the truck plant churned out its 1 millionth vehicle and the following month marked the 10th anniversary of its ground-breaking. Not bad for a huge truck plant (at the time dedicated to producing only full-size pickups) that was completed less than two years before the Great Recession, when pickup sales fell off a cliff for several years. Now that pickup sales are strong and outpacing the auto industry, the San Antonio plant's importance is on the uptick.

Since Texas is crucial to Toyota, we decided to tour the San Antonio plant to see what has contributed to its success. Our tour guide was Mario Lozoya, Toyota director of government relations and external affairs. A former Marine, Lozoya started at the plant in the paint department nine years ago and gradually worked his way up.

The announcement of Toyota's move to Texas took Lozoya and other San Antonio executives by surprise, but they welcomed the news, he said.

"It simply made more business sense to have everyone together in one place, located in the middle of the country. I suspect that easy access to transportation hubs like the DFW [Dallas/Fort Worth International] Airport also had something to do with it, as well as the demographics and diversity of the area, as well as the quality of life in the northern Dallas suburb of Plano," he said.

Touring the Plant

The plant is situated on San Antonio's south side on a 2,000-acre site that once was part of a larger Spanish land grant estate chartered in 1794. Toyota broke ground for the plant was in 2003, and the first Tundras began rolling off the line in October 2004.

"We have 3,000 associates working at our 2.2-million-square-foot main plant, producing 200,000 trucks a year," Lozoya said. "We now operate two shifts. One starts at 6:30 a.m. and ends at 3:15 p.m., and the other starts and 6:30 p.m. and ends at 3:15 a.m.

Toyota Truck Plant 3 II

"We are a little unique in that we also have 21 different Tier 1 [direct] suppliers located right here on our 2,000-acre campus. … They're not down the street, on the other side of town or somewhere else in the county … they're all right here, on-site," he continued.

Some suppliers even have workstations in the Toyota plant next to the assembly line, which simplifies production. When combined, Toyota and supplier employees number 6,000 people working on the San Antonio campus to build Tundras and Tacomas, Lozoya said.

Building two differently sized vehicles on the same line may seem challenging, but that's become the industry norm. Six different cab configurations are built on the line: the Tundra's regular cab, double cab and CrewMax, and the Tacoma's regular cab, Access Cab and double cab). Add color and equipment combinations, and bed lengths, and the plant produces 25 Tundra variations and 16 Tacoma variations, for a total of 41 distinct models rolling off the line.

Lozoya said one of the most important parts of Toyota's story in San Antonio has been its commitment to fostering partnerships with the city's Hispanic business leaders. San Antonio is the seventh largest city in the nation with a population of more than 1.4 million; it also has one of the largest Hispanic populations of any major U.S. city by percentage — roughly 64 percent — so Toyota believed it was important to recruit Hispanic suppliers and employees. Plant employment rolls show 64 percent of employees are Hispanic followed by 29 percent Caucasian, more than 5 percent black and 2 percent "other."

Focus on Well-Being

Employee wellness also is important to Toyota, and it's commitment to that plays out in many ways. One is new employee training.

"Since San Antonio does not have a strong manufacturing base, there is not really a large pool of the population that is familiar with what is required, just in terms of physical stamina and other issues related to working in a manufacturing facility like this," Lozoya said.

So when they're hired, employees are told they're about to become "industrial athletes," he said. New hires are instructed in the best way to use their bodies to do the work for which they were hired; instructors focus on how best to move legs, the upper body or hands to avoid injury and do the job effectively.

Perhaps Toyota's most visible commitment to wellness can be seen on the assembly line. During a one-hour tour workstation interchangeability caught our eye.

"We try to cross-train each employee on the 20 or 30 processes in each part of the line," Lozoya said. "So in order to help reduce injuries and issues related to repetitive motion, our assembly line is divided into groupings."

That means that employees working on the right side of a pickup before lunch will move to the left side after lunch. Sometimes employees change positions midway through the morning or afternoon. Not only does this practice provide physical relief, it also trains employees in several types of installations within their area, Lozoya said.

"So during each shift, you may work at four or five different positions, installing a variety of different parts. That keeps it from getting too boring and reduces issues related to repetitive motion," he added.


Another thing we noticed was that the trucks are raised and lowered to accommodate various parts installations while proceeding down the assembly line. This also helps reduce repetitive stress, Lozoya said. When employees are working on the lower part of a truck, the hydraulically operated platform on which it sits moves up to make those pieces easier to install. And when employees are working on the top part of the truck, the platform moves it down.

Working Next to Suppliers

The biggest change to the plant since I last visited was the location of suppliers next to the assembly line that uses their parts. During our tour I witnessed truck doors being removed from pickups and delivered across the aisle to the vendor that puts all the working parts into the doors. Once those pieces were in place, the doors were returned to the assembly line where they were reattached to the exact truck from which they were removed.

"In the final analysis, we think we have some important programs in place here in San Antonio, both for our employees and our customers," Lozoya said. "And we're obviously glad that Texas got the nod for the new national headquarters because we feel like there are real advantages for us being just 300 miles down the road instead of 1,300 miles across the country.

"We're hoping that our close proximity to the new national headquarters in Plano and key decision-makers there will result in a closer relationship … and benefit all of our workers here in San Antonio … as well as benefiting Texas as a whole. We're really excited that Toyota is becoming a true Texas company," Lozoya said.

While we don't know how having Toyota headquartered in Plano will impact the San Antonio plant, we do know that Toyota pickups are selling well and it seems like the huge investment in Toyota's newest plant is beginning to pay off. Moving Tacoma production to Texas certainly made the plant more efficient. photos by Peter Hubbard; manufacturer images


Toyota Truck Plant 2 II




good grief, what a child. ^

It's the truth though and you cannot dispute the points made.

John McCain drives a Toyota Sequoia, Obama had a Chrysler. The tundra is consistently on the most American vehicles list. Ford is number one but Chevy falls behind Toyota.

could you send me the website to apply for jobs

While Toyota is making huge investments in the USA, Chrysler is begging to be bought by a Chinese company--to likely start making their vehicles there. Lol.

I'm so glad "Hispanics" are getting a leg up, if you will, on the job market. After all, most blue collar job positions are dominated by "Hispanics" and let us not forget the millions upon millions of immigrants who pour over the border looking for "jobs" and a "better life" so they can have their anchor babies to enjoy the generous social and medical services we offer. Let us not also forget that most low skill/entry level jobs require or at least prefer bilingual language abilities so they are needed. Yep, we need to take care of these "Hispanics" because lord knows that everyone else in the white work force has substantial opportunities that enable them to make millions per year. Yep, if you are white, then you are rich. (Sarcasm off)

@Toyota lol
We don't insist that all domestics are bad only that Ford makes junk trucks that consistently break down and have poor build quality and even worse resale value. And if you do, never, ever buy new! Always buy used and get the true depreciated value of the truck.

so they jerk their people around during the shift so a bunch of "jacks of all trades, masters of none" are building your truck? no thanks.

I just wonder when Toyota officially will annonce that they are going to put the new stunning Cummins V8 5 l diesel in the next Tundra. Nissan Titan is official already but when will Toyota annonce?

Wow - the Fox News nut jobs are out in full force on this one. Even managed to work in LGBT into one of the rants.

Back on topic - workplace injury claims cost employers a ton of money. It makes sense to rotate staff to reduce the risk of injury. Another good point about cross-training is that it makes it more cost effective to cover absenteeism. I doubt that we would see the same degree of flexibility in a union shop. As pointed out, it also reduces boredom. Boredom increases the risk of injury. Employee satisfaction improves product quality and reduces staff turnover.

Japanese do not hate Texas, if anything they like Texas. Most Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese find Texans interesting and the history of Texas is fascinating. Toyota will have no problem adjusting to Plano, TX and Texans will have no problem with the jobs that Toyota will bring.

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