Alabama team talks future with Mazda, Toyota officials in Japan

Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield stands with Kiyotaka Shobuda, director and senior managing executive officer for Mazda, left, and Masashi Aihara, president of Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, right. [Photo contributed]

Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield and Huntsville-area officials held meetings this week with executives of Mazda and Toyota to expand relationships as the automakers prepare to officially launch construction on a $1.6 billion Alabama assembly plant.

The mission began Monday, when the Alabama group traveled to Toyota’s Motomachi assembly plant and met with members of the Toyota USA executive team. On Tuesday, the group was in Mazda’s hometown of Hiroshima to learn more about Alabama’s newest automotive manufacturer.

“During these visits with the executive headquarters teams of Toyota in Toyota City and Mazda in Hiroshima, we have learned more about each company and their vision for this joint venture that is already taking shape in Huntsville, Alabama,” Canfield said.

“We have had rare opportunities to learn more about the new technologies that will be employed and how each company’s respective philosophies will be reflected at the new Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA Inc. production facility,” he added.

During a tour of Mazda’s Hiroshima facilities, the Alabama team met with Kiyotaka Shobuda, director and managing executive officer, center, and Masashi Aihara, president of Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, far right. (contributed)

Alabama assembly plant

Mazda and Toyota announced their plans for the joint Huntsville production center in January. The plant will employ 4,000 people and produce 300,000 vehicles per year, split evenly between a new Mazda crossover and the Toyota Corolla sedan.

The first vehicles are expected to roll off the assembly lines at Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA, as the venture is called, in 2021, indicating a rapid time line for construction at the Huntsville site.

Those joining Canfield on the trip to Japan include Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Madison County Commission Chairman Dale StrongHuntsville/Madison County Chamber CEO Chip Cherry and Lucia Cape, the chamber’s senior vice president for economic development.

Others are Paul Finley, mayor of Madison; Jason Black, Limestone County commissioner; Rick Tucker, executive director of the Port of Huntsville; and Kim Lewis, chair-elect of the Huntsville/Madison Chamber.

Hollie Pegg, assistant director of business development for Asian strategy at the Alabama Department of Commerce, is also on the mission. Representatives of Toyota Motor Manufacturing of Alabama attended as well.

“These meetings in Japan with the Mazda and Toyota corporations have created an even greater sense of understanding of the partnership and commitment that has been created with two of the world’s most renowned automakers, while engineering, road design and site prep continues on more than 2,000 acres locally,” Strong said.

He added that the Mazda Toyota assembly plant project “will be a redefining moment for North Alabama.”

Mazda connection

While Alabama officials have long had deep ties to Toyota, which has operated an engine plant in Huntsville for more than a decade, Canfield said this week’s discussions in Hiroshima provided an opportunity to forge a deeper relationship with Mazda and its executive team.

In addition, the discussions centered on how AIDT, the state’s primary workforce development agency, will help the automakers reach an aggressive employment ramp-up at the new plant. Ed Castile, director of AIDT and deputy secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, will be in Hiroshima on Friday to tour Mazda’s production and training facilities.

Canfield said the meetings with the Mazda executives will help the Alabama team develop a strategy for securing the supply chain for the automaker’s first U.S. assembly plant.

Masamichi Kogai, president and chief executive officer of Mazda Motor Corp., speaks at the January announcement of the Toyota-Mazda plant coming to Huntsville. (file)

“Our meetings with the Mazda executive team, and the production facility visits that accompanied them, afforded Team Alabama the best opportunity to deepen our understanding of what is at the core of Mazda,” he said. “We have learned how Mazda embraces the principle of ‘Monotsukuri Innovation in pursuit of achieving quality in production that reflects the belief that though they make many vehicles, each customer sees only the one vehicle.

“This is a very driver-driven company,” he added. “They want drivers of Mazdas to have fun with the driving experience. They want their customers to feel the ‘Zoom Zoom’ that is built into every Mazda.”

Besides touring Toyota’s Motomachi plant, the Alabama group visited the automaker’s Kaikan Museum, seeing some of the company’s newest automotive technologies and smart cars.

“I can’t stress enough the importance of relationships in doing business with our overseas partners,” Battle said. “If we had not already established a long-standing collaborative relationship with Toyota, we would not have landed the new Mazda-Toyota plant. These commitments don’t just happen in 15-minute meetings or phone calls. There is a long process of communication, listening and work toward mutual respect before we develop a trusted business relationship.”

Cherry said the longstanding relationship with Toyota played a key role in securing the new assembly plant for Huntsville.

Later this week, an Alabama delegation will attend the 41st annual meeting of SEUS Japan, an international conference in Tokyo that aims to broaden economic and cultural ties between seven Southeastern states and Japan.

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.

Republished with permission from the Alabama NewsCenter.