Toyota Suspends Plans For Miss. Prius Factory

Toyota has announced it is suspending plans to produce Prius hybrids near Tupelo, Miss. The plant was slated to open in 2010.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And now for a reminder of how good things used to be for the auto industry. About two years ago, Toyota was searching for a site to build a new truck plant. It was courted by three Southern cities.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

They were Marion, Arkansas, Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Tupelo, Mississippi.

MONTAGNE: And Tupelo, or to be more precise the tiny nearby community of Blue Springs, won Toyota's blessing. More than a thousand people jammed an auditorium for the announcement. Tupelo's Daily Journal ran the headline, "Oh, what a feeling." And Mayor Ed Neely told us at the time, he was looking forward to getting some rest.

Mayor ED NEELY (Tupelo, Mississippi): Well, I guess I'm so elated, my brain is not working real well. We've been working every day for the last six years to bring this to bear(ph).

INSKEEP: That was Mayor Ed Neely a couple of years ago. Construction soon began on the truck plant, which was expected to have 2,000 workers. But earlier this year, Toyota delayed plans to open the facility. A sluggish economy was to blame.

MONTAGNE: Then the company decided to build a different vehicle there, not a truck, but its hybrid Prius. And now Toyota says all production in Tupelo is suspended indefinitely. Mayor Neely says he wasn't in an auditorium for the announcement this time.

Mayor NEELY: Well, actually my son told me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mayor NEELY: I think he'd read it in the Wall Street Journal.

INSKEEP: Ed Neely was a banker for 44 years before becoming Tupelo's mayor. He says that job taught him how to make it through un-fun times, as he puts it. But the mayor says another skill he picked up helps now, too. His college major, marketing.

Mayor NEELY: We do believe that they'll crank up and build cars. It's just not going to be quite as soon as we had hoped. I just have that much faith in Toyota. They're not going to change their mind. But some people are very disappointed. We have a fine community college here, and they had begun a training program for tool and die making to do what is here and what is coming. And so they are disappointed, but not distraught about it, because they, too, believe that it's still coming, just like we always believed it would.

MONTAGNE: An optimistic Ed Neely. He's the mayor of Tupelo, Mississippi, where Toyota may or may not begin production of new cars and where the local paper's headline yesterday was, "Prius, a question of when."

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