Deep in the heart of the Lone Star State, the Tundra and Tacoma assembly plant just outside of San Antonio puts an emphatic exclamation point to the brand's "Toyota is Here" slogan.
Toyota's Texas assembly plant
Seventeen miles south of The Alamo in downtown San Antonio are 2,600 acres of land that were once part of the sprawling JLC Ranch – an operation that traced its lineage back even before Texas statehood to the year 1794. That's when Juan Ignacio de Casanova received a royal grant for a league of rolling pastureland between Leon Creek and the Medina River.
In 2003, construction of a mammoth assembly plant on the site commenced. It required 6.5 million cubic yards of dirt to be moved, 250,000 yards of concrete to be poured, 15,000 tons of steel to be erected and 10 acres of railway siding to be installed. The result was a primary facility that measures 2.2 million square feet (46 acres) and contains stamping, body weld, paint, plastics and assembly operations.
In addition to the main plant, there are also separate production and assembly facilities for 23 parts suppliers housed in an additional 2.1 million square feet of space that contain major components as well as sub-assembly and assembly sequencing operations.
The total cost upon completion was somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.2 billion.
The main plant employs 3,200 associates including administrative, engineering and production personnel, while the various onsite suppliers employ 4,000 more for a total workforce of 7,200.
Welcome to Toyota Motors Manufacturing Texas (TMMTX).
Currently, TMMTX assembles both the Toyota Tundra and Toyota Tacoma. Although both models are selling well, demand for the Tacoma is greater, so 40 percent of its production capacity is allocated to the Tundra while 60 percent is allocated to the Tacoma. With an annual capacity of 200,000 trucks per year, a two shift alternate work schedule with mandatory Saturday production means the plant is able to assemble just beyond that capacity at an anticipated 205,000 vehicles.
To say that the TMMTX facility is impressive is putting it mildly.
Consider this: The single line manages to accomplish the assembly two distinct body-on-frame pickup trucks – the only truck plant in the U.S. currently able to do this. It's all the more impressive when you consider that the Tundra is available in three different cab configurations and 25 variations, while the Tacoma is sold in two cab configurations and 16 different variations for a total of 41 different vehicle variations.
Plant visitors begin their tour at the point where the freshly-painted truck bodies emerge from the paint facility to begin their trip down the final assembly line. (Keep in mind that, for safety reasons, visitors aren't able to view the stamping, welding and painting processes that transform rolls of steel into truck bodies.)
Before the assembly process begins, the doors are removed from the bodies, to make working in and around the cab easier, and placed on a separate conveyor system that will follow the rest of the truck until the interior is complete when they are once again reunited.
Each vehicle is now ready for the final assembly process. To accomplish this feat, the 23 separate manufacturing plants and the Toyota assembly plant perform a choreographed dance that puts the American Ballet Theatre to shame.
Robots and electric carts regularly deliver parts from storage areas located throughout the plant that house either sub-assembly operations or temporary storage for the various systems and trim pieces needed to complete the hundreds of tasks performed by Toyota associates. Beeping and sporting flashing lights, they will make hundreds of round-trips daily, each carrying the correct parts (both color and trim-based) for a particular vehicle. Since associates aren't allowed to lift more than 25 pounds, heavier parts are either installed by a team or with specialized, often robotic, equipment.
Things also happen very quickly. While we were there, either a new Tundra or new Tacoma rolled off the end of the assembly line every 60 seconds.
Having its suppliers close at hand is also a quantum leap forward in quality control especially at this pace. A parts issue that's diagnosed on the line can be corrected in a matter of minutes instead of hours or days. This also lends itself to a practice of continual improvement that benefits both Toyota and the onsite suppliers.
The entire process is a wonder to behold – but it doesn't stop there.
We were also reminded of the fact that TMMTX is a zero-landfill facility. Nothing from the plant goes to landfills. In addition to recycling paper and glass, scrap steel is returned to the steel mill and plastic is shredded and returned to a pellet manufacturer.
Water conservation in this area of Texas is also a priority. TMMTX buys recycled water from the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) for 100 percent of its processes and recycles 1.2 million gallons of it per day, while the only fresh water used onsite is for the kitchen and restrooms.
The official title of our tour was "Toyota is Here." It is, indeed.
Toyota milestones in the U.S.
1957 – Toyota Motor Sales, U.S. A. established
1972 – Manufacturing operations begin in U.S.
1973 – Calty Design Research established
1977 – Toyota Technical Center, U.S.A. incorporated
1986 – Vehicle production begins in U.S
1987 – Toyota U.S.A. Foundation established
1993 – Arizona Proving Ground established
1996 – North American manufacturing headquarters established
1997 – 5 millionth North American vehicle produced
1999 – First hybrid vehicle sold in U.S.
2002 – 10 millionth North American vehicle produced
2006 – Hybrid production begins in U.S.
2010 – Toyota North American Center for Quality Excellence established
2011 – Collaborative Safety Research Center (CSRC) launched
2012 - 25 millionth North American vehicle produced
2015 – Toyota breaks ground on its new North American headquarters in Plano, Texas