A Bodine by Any Other Name

Toyota’s plants in Missouri and Tennessee – where every North American-built vehicle begins its journey – proudly join the list of Toyota acronyms.

January 21, 2020
Why Now? -- Bodine was founded in 1912 and was acquired by TMC in 1990. "But once we gave up our non-Toyota business, it seemed like we'd never have a better chance to make (the name change to Toyota)," says President Wes Woods.

The moment the calendar flipped from 2019 to 2020, the names of Bodine Aluminum’s two plants changed to Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Missouri (TMMMO) and Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Tennessee (TMMTN) — officially.

But well before then, most of the people on the front lines of those facilities had already completed the transformation, unofficially, by proudly sporting their new Toyota-branded shirts to work.

As president Wes Woods explains it, this is much more than a name change. It is a public confirmation for the more than 1,200 team members who work at the plants in Troy, Missouri, and Jackson, Tennessee, that they are – and always have been – fully-fledged members of the Toyota family.

A Bit of History

Bodine Aluminum was founded in 1912 and was acquired by Toyota Motor Corporation in 1990.

Over the years, it’s become an indispensable contributor to Toyota’s North American manufacturing operations. After all, Bodine makes the cylinder head and engine block for every Toyota and Lexus vehicle assembled in North America, as well as automatic transmission cases and housings for 2.5-liter engines and transmission cases for V6 engines. Without them, those millions of cars, trucks and SUVs really aren’t worth much. As Woods likes to joke, “without the engine block and head, you can listen to the radio, but you can’t actually go anywhere.”

However, the company and its role tended to fly under the radar — due in part to its name. The company was first established by founder Jesse Bodine, carried on by his two sons and then for more than 30 years by former president Bob Lloyd.

Going Public -- "Now, everyone knows we are Toyota," says Donna Orf, general manager of administration.

Things began to change in 2019 when Bodine decided to discontinue its non-Toyota business and consolidate its St. Louis plant, accommodating team members who chose to transfer to the company’s growing and thriving operation in Troy.

At the time, Woods had only been with the company three years and had just been named its president. But he sensed the time was right to go all in on Toyota.

“Throughout this name change process, I’ve been asked many times: Why are you doing it?’” says Woods. “I’ve asked myself that question, too, and have lost some sleep over it because of the deep and cherished Bodine tradition. But once we made the decision to give up our non-Toyota business, it seemed like we’d never have a better chance to make that transition.”

‘This is Huge for Our Team Members’

Support from the ground up encouraged Woods to press ahead. Glen Kelley, general manager of manufacturing and a Bodine fixture since it established its Troy plant in 1993 specifically to keep pace with Toyota’s growth, can vouch for that.

“The name has always been a struggle for the folks here,” he says. “We do all of the things the other Toyota plants do, but in the community, we’re known as Bodine. It’s almost like we’ve had a dual personality. When you tell people you work at Toyota, there’s a different feeling. There’s a sense of pride when you see it on the sign in front of the plant. This is huge for our team members.”

“We’ve known all along that we were a Toyota company, but now it feels more real to everyone,” says Donna Orf, an 18-year veteran who now serves as general manager of administration. “In the past, it felt as if we were viewed as a supplier. Now everyone knows we are Toyota.”

Meanwhile, to continue the Bodine tradition, TMMO and TMMTN will celebrate an annual Jesse Bodine Day and all new team members will learn the history of the company's founding during on-boarding.

Sign of the Times -- "There's a sense of pride  when you see (Toyota) on the sign in front of the plant," says Glen Kelley, general manager of manufacturing. "This is huge for our team members.

A Mobility Future

Now that this hurdle has been cleared, Woods and his team have begun to shift their focus to a new challenge: developing the capabilities and the skill sets that will be needed as Toyota transitions from being a car to a mobility company.

How will TMMMO and TMMTN’s specialized manufacturing expertise be used as vehicles become more connected, autonomous and electrified?

“We need to be flexible,” says Woods. “There are two aspects to this name change. One is to take what’s old and make it shiny and new, to change the public face of the company. But the other is more internal. We need to refresh our thinking. To think differently. To start our impossible by being bold and implementing new technologies. To challenge ourselves to be an even better company. If we do that, and never lose sight of the Toyota value of respect for people, all of the other pieces will fall into place.”

By Dan Miller

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