Toyota's new plant in Woodstock, Ontario
Toyota’s new plant in Woodstock, Ontario. Click image to enlarge
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Toyota’s new Woodstock, Ontario plant

Woodstock, Ontario – There was something a little strange about attending Toyota’s recent Grand Opening ceremony for its new Woodstock, Ontario plant. Strange, because while driving to Woodstock from Ottawa in one of the company’s popular and fuel-sipping Corolla sedans (built in Cambridge, Ontario, just down the road from Woodstock), there was nothing but gloom and doom to be heard on the radio concerning the global, North American, Canadian, Ontario and local economies.

Take your pick, the stories suggested; everything is apparently in a mess.

Yet here we were in Woodstock, with various Canadian dignitaries, Toyota executives and media, along with hundreds of “associates,” for a rare feel-good story. A pleasant change!

Toyota�s new plant in Woodstock, Ontario
RAV4s waiting to be delivered
Toyota’s new plant in Woodstock, Ontario (top); RAV4s waiting to be delivered. Click image to enlarge

True, the plant, which is building the Toyota RAV4 compact SUV, is not working to capacity, and some wondered if building the plant was, in hindsight, too much too soon. But Katsuaki Watanabe, President and CEO of Toyota Motor Corporation, was optimistic. Yes, he allowed, things have changed since the announcement was made four years ago to build the plant. However, the Woodstock facility (and the Cambridge plant) is building the type of vehicles for which there is, and will continue to be, a strong demand. The economy will come back, he said, and when it does Toyota will be ready to add a second shift of workers, increase production, and take advantage of the reviving market. It’s part of Toyota’s long-term plan.

Woodstock is also home to a Hino truck assembly plant (owned by Toyota) and Boshuku, an independent supplier of interiors which recently moved here and employs 200 people.

This is all great news for the Woodstock area, which is seeing an increase in construction, business start-ups, and new job opportunities (for the time being, the new Woodstock plant employs 1,200 people, of which 1,000 have been transferred from Cambridge). Built at a cost of $1.1 Billion, the plant is a state-of-the art facility, utilizing a range of technologies and techniques to modernize and improve the automobile assembly process. Inside, the plant is clean and bright, aisles are wide and workers manage a legion of robotic colleagues. Painting, for example, is a “three-wet” process, with primer, base and clearcoat each applied wet, and then baked. This produces a “Lexus-like” finish according to Toyota Canada’s Senior Vice President Ray Tanguay, and is environmentally superior to earlier methods.

Katsuaki Watanabe, President and CEO of Toyota Motor Corporation
Ray Tanguay, Toyota Canada\'s Senior Vice President
Katsuaki Watanabe, President and CEO of Toyota Motor Corporation (top); Ray Tanguay, Toyota Canada’s Senior Vice President . Click image to enlarge

Speaking of the environment, the Woodstock plant is a “Green Field” facility, which means that when it’s decommissioned (well into the future, presumably), the land can easily be returned to its original agricultural state, having avoided contamination from chemicals or emissions.

Toyota is clearly doing a lot right. In Canada, 50 per cent of Toyota vehicles purchased here are made here. This is a figure that is unmatched by any other manufacturer, and is perhaps the success story for this brand since it began producing vehicles in this country.

Does that mean Woodstock residents are all buying Toyotas? At the local Toyota dealer, John Hogan of Woodstock Toyota sees residents slowly moving toward his product. “It’s a blue-collar town,” he says. “People here are used to domestic products, but we’re starting to see a change.”

Returning to Ottawa in one of Woodstock’s 2009 Toyota RAV4s, the news on the radio was still generally grim, with the Toyota plant-opening the lone bright spot in coverage of the economy. The all-wheel drive RAV4 was returning 8.6 L/100 km from its 179-horsepower, four-cylinder engine. Comfortable, well-equipped and spacious, it seemed to be the right type of vehicle for the times. Look for a full test drive of the ’09 RAV4 on Autos shortly.

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