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Toyota Will Build SUVs and Not the Corolla at New Alabama Plant

The best-selling car in history is being shunted aside to make room for a new SUV that hasn’t been created yet. Toyota announced yesterday that it was nixing its plan to assemble the Corolla at the new U.S. plant it’s building in partnership with Mazda. Located in Huntsville, Alabama, the plant will instead be used to build a new, as yet unknown SUV when both the model and the plant are ready to go.

The company points to changing consumer habits, namely the still-increasing demand for small utility models, to explain its change of mind.

The new SUV to be built in Alabama will be presented to dealers during a private event in Las Vegas, Nevada in September.

Loss of momentum
Sales of the iconic Corolla are down in the U.S. this year by 5.3%, to 152,868 units. Of course, it should be noted that the segment as a whole is suffering, with sales down 16% during 2019 to-date. In 2018, sales of the Corolla had also declined in comparison with the previous year, by 7.7% (for 303,732 units sold). The peak year for sales of the model was 2016, when Toyota sold 387,388 of the Corolla to American buyers.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

This past May, the head of Toyota in the U.S., Jim Lentz, said that the company did not expect to make adjustments to its plans, even if sales of cars are on the downturn. He did nuance that, however, that that could change depending on circumstances.

"If you look at most of our plants, they have built one or two different models over the lifetime. So we will continue to make adjustments, as necessary, based on where the market takes us."

- Jim Lentz, Toyota

The company made a similar type of decision back in 2017 regarding its plant in Guanajuato, Mexico. That facility had been scheduled to build the Corolla, but from the date it opened it has been producing Tacoma pickups.  

The joint Toyota-Mazda factory, to be called officially Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A., will start operation in 2021, with an annual capacity of 300,000 vehicles annually. In the U.S., the Corolla will continue to be assembled at the Toyota plant in Blue Spring, Mississippi.

For its part, Mazda published a statement reiterating that it still plans to build an as-yet-unidentified SUV at the new plant in Alabama.