Toyota lines to idle for several days in February and March

Facing a plunge in vehicle sales, Toyota announced late Thursday that it will halt its North American assembly lines, including both at its flagship plant in Georgetown, for several days in February and March.

In Georgetown, the Camry and Avalon line will be idled for one day in February and nine from March through Friday, April 3. The second line, which manufactures Camrys, Camry Hybrids and Venzas won't shut down in February but is scheduled to be idled five days in March.

Engine manufacturing lines will be idled either two or three days in February, depending on the line, as well as nine days in March and early April.

Spokesman Rick Hesterberg said Georgetown employees will continue to be given three options for non-production days. They can come to work and train or work on plant improvements; take a vacation day; or take an unpaid day off.

The specific days were not announced Thursday, as they're still kind of fluid, Hesterberg said. The company is aiming to tailor the March days to coincide with spring break for local school systems. Both Fayette and Scott County public schools are closed March 30 to April 3.

Georgetown employees will generally have fewer non-production days than those at other Toyota plants. That indicates that demand for Georgetown's cars, while weak, is still better than that for the SUVs and trucks produced elsewhere.

Thursday's announcement follows previous decisions that have seen the lines shut down for several days so far in January. They will also be idled Friday and Monday. Toyota's operations in Japan previously announced a production shutdown in February and March.

The production slowdown comes as vehicle sales for all automakers have plunged in the wake of the recession.

Toyota said inventory of its North American-built vehicles ranges from 80 to 90 days. It hopes the new non-production days will cut that by half in the second quarter.

“We are making responsible business decisions now in order to sustain our business over the long term,” Jim Wiseman, a vice president at Toyota's North American manufacturing headquarters in Erlanger, said in a statement.

“In addition to slowing production, we are redoubling efforts to cut costs at each of our facilities,” he said. “Further actions and sacrifices may be necessary, but we will continue to do everything possible to assure the viability of our plants and protect the long-term employment security of our team members.”

Hesterberg said the plant has cut down on travel and overtime, to curtail costs.