The debate over what truly defines an 'American car' is about to get even more interesting as Toyota switches production of the 2010 Highlander crossover from Japan to the United States. This now gives the Toyota nameplate a total of 11 vehicles that are produced in North America - two less than Ford and three less than Chevrolet. Although identical to the 2009 model, the 2010 Toyota Highlander is now built at the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana, Inc (TMMI) plant in Princeton, Ind. alongside the Sequoia SUV and Sienna minivan. To accommodate Highlander production, Toyota invested an additional $450 million in its TMMI facility.
Initially, the Highlander was going to be assembled at a new facility in Tupelo, Miss., but with automotive sales on the decline and production of the Tundra pickup being consolidated to the San Antonio, Texas plant, TMMI's production capacity allowed for the Highlander's addition rather than the opening of a new facility. Production of the Prius was expected to fill the Highlander's position at the Mississippi plant, but construction of the facility has been halted and there is currently no indication what Toyota's plans are for the plant. As for the use of the TMMI plant, the Highlander and Sienna both share a chassis with the Toyota Camry, but demand for the popular sedan is so great that Toyota produces it in two North American plants (one shared with Subaru) making TMMI the better choice. As for the 2010 Highlander Hybrid, it appears that Toyota will continue building this model in Japan.
Toyota's 11 North American produced vehicles ranks third for automakers in the U.S. just under Ford which has 13 North American built cars while Chevrolet tops the list with 14. When it comes to nameplates assembled inside the United States, though, Ford jumps to the top of the list with 10 models, while Toyota comes in second with nine models and Chevrolet's domestic offerings total just eight. Toyota does stand to lose one of its 'Made in the U.S.A.' models as plans are in order to shut down the New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI) plant in Fremont, Calif. The former General Motors and Toyota joint venture currently builds the Toyota Tacoma, Toyota Corolla and the Pontiac Vibe. Toyota has already announced that production of the Corolla will switch to the Ontario, Canada plant that builds the Toyota Matrix, while the Tacoma will now be built alongside the Tundra in Texas.
The Lexus RX, which is built alongside the Matrix and RAV4 in Ontario, Canada, is the final Toyota Motor Corporation model assembled in North America giving the automaker an even dozen. As for the Toyota brand, the only cars in Toyota's lineup that are not produced in North America are the Yaris hatchback and the Prius hybrid, while the SUVs produced outside of North America are the Land Cruiser, 4Runner and FJ Cruiser.
Select photos via Jeffrey N. Ross or Toyota Motor Corporation.