Toyota announced Wednesday it plans to increase production in North America sooner than expected, as it no longer faces such a severe shortage of parts due to the earthquake and tsunami that damaged its Japanese suppliers.
"Through a lot of effort on the part of our suppliers to implement countermeasures, we've been able to return to some more normalized production a lot quicker than originally thought," said Toyota spokesman Rick Hesterberg in Georgetown.
Overall North American production is expected to rise to 70 percent beginning in June from 30 percent in May. But its flagship plant in Georgetown will restore production to 100 percent. It produces the Camry, Camry Hybrid, Avalon and Venza. Other models returning to full production at other plants are the Corolla, Highlander, Matrix, Sequoia and Sienna.
"We're glad to see a return to some normalized production," Hesterberg said. "It's overall good news for Toyota and especially good news for Georgetown."
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The plant continued normal operations after the March 11 disaster until mid-April. At that point, it began idling production on select days and then settled into a schedule of no production Mondays and Fridays and only 50 percent Tuesdays through Thursdays.
As part of that, Georgetown production times changed from 6:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. for first shift and 5:15 p.m. to 2 a.m. for second shift to 9:45 a.m. to 2:42 p.m. and 5:21 to 9:33 p.m., respectively.
The plant's 7,000 or so workers have still kept to their normal shift times, though, including on non-production days. As they have during past production stoppages, including those that followed recalls last year, employees have had three options: They can report to work as usual for training or plant improvement such as maintenance, use paid vacation time or take unpaid time off.
Hesterberg said Georgetown management has organized for workers to be able to venture out and volunteer, while remaining fully paid, at area non-profits during their Monday and Friday shifts. The non-profits being assisted include God's Pantry, Habitat for Humanity in Scott County, Boy Scouts, the Lexington Hearing and Speech Center, and Lexington Children's Theatre.