Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) today closed its Australian manufacturing operations after 54 years and almost 3.5 million cars produced, for local buyers and export to the Middle East.
The shuttering of Toyota’s Altona factory in Melbourne’s west was announced almost four years ago to give staff and suppliers time to prepare and re-train, with financial help from Toyota and various levels of government.
The occasion was marked this week by a gathering of the 2600 factory workers who'll in large part move on from next week, plus Toyota executives from Australia and Japan, and partners from the 100-plus member supply chain that's driven the factory here to 90,000-plus annual units right to the very end.
TMC’s global boss Akio Toyoda was not there, though he made a visit to Melbourne from Japan a few weeks ago to spend time on the factory line — just as he did in February 2014, when he personally announced the intended closure to staff alongside TMC Australia boss Max Yasuda.
Via video link today, Toyoda said: "I would like to express my sincere appreciation again to you, our dedicated employees, our suppliers, our customers, the local community and government who have all supported Toyota's manufacturing development in Australia.
"From the bottom of my heart I wish you and your families happiness in the future. Thank you very much."
Toyota was the last of Australia’s three big-scale car-makers to announce a planned factory closure, though Holden’s plant at Elizabeth in South Australia will soldier on until October 20. Ford’s plants in Melbourne and regional Victorian city Geelong shut about one year ago.
Toyota produced 3,451,115 vehicles in Australia between 1963 and now, a little over 1.3 million of which were for export to the Middle East — much higher than Ford or Holden. Production was centred at Port Melbourne until December 1994, at which point it migrated to the Altona site.
From next year, the Toyota Camry that’s been made here for 30 years and become a huge fleet favourite will be imported from Japan in more upmarket, new-generation form, while the Aurion will be replaced by a V6 version of said new Camry.
Australia was among the very first countries in the world to make Toyotas outside of Japan, and the company has long spoken of the magnitude of closing its plant here — something necessitated more rapidly by the planned closures of Ford and Holden’s plants, decimating supplier volumes.
Toyota partly made its reputation outside of Japan thanks to the punishment its then-unknown (and imported) FJ LandCruisers copped during the Snowy River hydro scheme, in lieu of Land Rovers. A legend was born.
In fact, TMC — often the world’s biggest car-maker, alternating with Volkswagen — has never closed a plant anywhere in the world on the scale of Altona, which is why Akio Toyoda himself made repeat visits during the steady “last ditch” closure, and expressed personal devastation on a level not (publicly, at least) matched by Ford or General Motors management in the US.
Part of the TMC Australia shift from 2018 onwards also sees the closure of its Sydney operation — long the hub of sales and marketing nationally — with the company centralising its national headquarters in Port Melbourne.
Only 80 of the 360 staff in place there will move to Melbourne, with the rest of the roles being filled by existing re-deployed Toyota staff (including 150 from manufacturing) or new hires. All tier 1, 2 and 3 management roles were internal promotions, and all have done long-term handovers.
TMC Australia believes this will counter any brain drain, while mixing things up sufficiently to be lighter and more nimble, under the presidency of incoming head Matthew Callachor.
It expects very little sales drops from 2018 onwards despite the inevitable decline in Camry sales thanks to higher pricing — now that it isn’t pushing volume with discounts to keep the factory humming and suppliers in business — and it’d take a miracle to dislodge it from market leadership.
Finally, what becomes of the Altona site? Outgoing TMC Australia president Buttner said that Toyota didn't want to abandon or divest from it after decades of government assistance, so while a small parcel may be sold, it'll remain on the books.
TMCA will turn it into a 'centre of excellence' providing business management consulting, and also incorporate a test facility with track, a skid-pan, Belgian blocks and more, mostly for internal purposes such as dealer training.
"Altona will house our expanded design and engineering capabilities. Our 150-strong team are in great demand by Toyota affiliates around the globe," he said.
"The Centre of Excellence will include a world-class training facility and other commercial initiatives that will enhance the company's business and the community."
Toyota has been determined to make today a private, closed-doors event for its staff and partners, but comments made to the company's Altona workforce by current president Dave Buttner were released this afternoon.
"It is you, our dedicated employees, who have built Toyota into Australia's leading car company - the biggest-selling brand for 20 individual years, including the past 14 in a row," Buttner said.
"It is your efforts that have helped Toyota become a byword for quality, for reliability and for trust wherever you go in Australia.
Buttner added that the company will, for some time, continue to support departing workers in finding new employment.
"When we launched the DRIVE program in 2014, its purpose was to ensure you are all in the best possible position to find a new job in the future. These services will remain until the middle of next year."
The company has also announced the Toyota Community Trust, launching today with a $32 million endowment, with the intention of "helping young Australians realise their potential".
"The Toyota Community Trust will encourage the educational dreams of young people and provide our employees who are leaving today, with another reason to be proud of their time with Toyota," chairman Max Yasuda said.
"Our company will continue to employ a significant number of engineers to develop and test vehicles, parts and accessories for global Toyota affiliates, including products that will be sold in Australia.
"This trust will encourage and enable more young Australians to pursue further study and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). STEM is vital to Australia's future, and my dream is that some of the young people we support may eventually join Toyota."
Breakdown of cars made by TMC Australia
- Highest production year: 148,931 (2007)
- Highest production month: 15,355 (October 2007)
- Total exports: 1,324,991
- Biggest export market: 1,245,914 (Middle East)
- Highest export year: 101,668 (2008)