GEORGETOWN —Toyota unveiled its new Lexus ES 350 line Monday with a massive celebration on the front lawn of its Scott County plant.
Gov. Steve Beshear said the Toyota plant's location in Scott County nearly 30 years ago triggered ripples of economic prosperity around Kentucky. The state is now the third-largest manufacturer of cars and light trucks in the country, he said.
Before it added the Lexus line, the Georgetown Toyota plant already produced Camrys, Avalons and Venzas,
Kentucky's economic progress would not "be possible today if Toyota hadn't come to Georgetown in the '80s," Beshear said.
He gave credit for that to Martha Layne Collins, who was governor at the time and attended Monday's ceremony, and to Larry Hayes, who has worked in economic development in the Collins and Beshear administrations.
Wil James, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky Inc., said Monday's Lexus launch was "arguably the most important moment since the first Camry came off the line" in 1988.
To gear up for Lexus production, Toyota invested $360 million and added 750 jobs. The new line will produce 50,000 vehicles a year. Toyota will continue to produce the gas-electric hybrid version of the Lexus ES 350 on the Japanese island of Kyushu.
Starting price for the new Lexus is $38,000. The starting price for a new Camry is $23,000.
The Lexus line is sold by 235 dealers in the United States, among them Lexington's Jamal Mashburn, a former University of Kentucky basketball player. Mashburn spoke about his experience at UK and later as a businessman who co-owns the Lexus Store of Lexington and Toyota on Nicholasville.
"I don't sell the car; you guys sell the car," Mashburn said, complimenting the Lexus' fit and finish.
In a video introduction in which various Georgetown- and Lexington-area officials and organizations welcomed the Lexus, UK President Eli Capilouto noted that he has a 12-year-old Lexus. He joked that he was waiting to buy another one because he wanted one made in Kentucky.
About 3,000 people attended the ceremony, which included pyrotechnics when the ceremonial gray Lexus was unveiled, and red, white and blue fireworks immediately after. Attendees sampled Kentucky Proud products including country ham biscuits and spiced apple cider.
A drawing was held at which two employees each received a new Lexus.
One of the speakers during the ceremony, Lorie Wilder of Scott County, works on the Lexus assembly trim line. She has worked at Toyota for 21 years and volunteered to move to Lexus production.
"I feel a sense of ownership in this piece of history," she told the crowd. "We all feel like it's our baby. ... I am excited for the chance to prove what we can do."