Chat with Mike Bafan about Toyota’s new plant in Mexico and two themes inevitably emerge: agility and flexibility.
The president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing de Guanajuato (TMMGT) has demonstrated plenty of both heading up this $700 million project – practically from the start.
After all, at the groundbreaking ceremony in November 2016, Toyota said TMMGT would be the world’s first plant to be built from the ground up based on Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) principles. And it said it would assemble Corolla, the best-selling car in automotive history.
But things have changed in the 20 months since. And it’s possible they’ll continue to change between now and the anticipated start of production in late 2019.
“Our top priority is to meet customer demand,” says Bafan, who also serves as president of Toyota de Mexico and Toyota Motor Manufacturing de Baja California (TMMBC). “And it’s very clear that customer demand has shifted from cars to trucks. So we’re going to build Tacoma to start and help support current production at Baja and San Antonio.”
That change has led to others. The original plan called for TMMGT to produce 200,000 units annually. Now, the start-up capacity is projected to be 100,000. And instead of going all in on TNGA at the outset, it will begin with a more traditional manufacturing approach.
All that being said, there is one thing that hasn’t changed.
“We’ve made it very clear that we are completely committed to this project,” says Bafan. “It still very much fits in our long-term manufacturing strategy.”
Everything’s On Track
Bafan says construction has been progressing nicely and is on track. The press, paint and plastic shops are roughly 50 percent completed, with assembly about 10 percent of the way there. The goal is to finalize the structures by end of this year, then install the required manufacturing machinery by mid-2019 so that production can begin by end of that year.
Meanwhile, about a dozen onsite suppliers have begun work on their facilities. And the various governmental agencies are off to a good start on the required infrastructure upgrades to roads, the electrical grid and water and gas lines.
Tapping into the Work Ethic
Bafan says he and a team of about 60 team members spend most of their time at a temporary office in the city of Queretaro, about 30 minutes away from the construction site. In addition to working closely with the plant contractor, their primary focus has been on laying the foundation to recruit the 1,000 direct hires that will be needed once the plant is fully up to speed.
Most of the group leaders are already on board and deep into their training. That includes spending time at TMMBC with actual line responsibility. Some 80 percent of the workforce, however, remains to be put into place.
“Guanajuato is primarily an agricultural state,” says Bafan. “There are really good people here. But most of them have been farmers. So our mission is to tap into their great work ethic and show them how to apply it to auto manufacturing. That’s not something that just happens. It takes good planning and training. But given the strength of our people, I’m confident we will be up to the challenge.”
To that end, Bafan said community engagement has been a top priority. That’s taken multiple forms, from posts on social media to a presence at local gatherings to donations of vehicles to the Guanajuato police and fire departments.
Protecting the Environment
And in keeping with Toyota’s commitment to the environment, the TMMGT team is closely coordinating with local authorities to ensure construction does not adversely affect the quality of the Queretaro River that flows nearby. Replanting of trees and preservation of wildlife habitat are also key components of the plan.
But those are all things Bafan can control. There are many other variables he can’t, such as the ongoing renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexico’s state and presidential elections in July and the U.S. midterm elections in November.
So the mantra remains: agility and flexibility.
“Here’s the deal: We all know there could be change,” he says. “But how big will those changes be? No one knows. My focus is on establishing a robust facility that can manage change without significant negative impact. We have our plans. But we also need to be ready for whatever comes our way. And we will be ready.”
By Dan Miller