Toyota indefinitely postpones US Prius plant opening

Due to the downturn in the auto industry, the Toyota Motor Corp has indefinitely postponed the start of production at its plant in Blue Springs, Mississippi, thereby halting its investment in the project near $300 million. The plant was scheduled to begin production in 2010 and make the Japanese automaker's Prius hybrid car.

The decision to delay the startup of the Mississippi plant, made early Monday morning at a meeting in Japan of high-level executives, is part of the company's effort to align production worldwide with anticipated demand.

The company said: "Due to the uncertainty of the market, it is impossible to say at this time when production will begin." At the same time, it added that the company was committed to completing the plant when market conditions were right.

A spokesman for Toyota's US arm, Mike Goss, said on Monday that the construction of the plant was nearly complete, and that Toyota would finish the building. It is the installation of the factory's equipment and machinery that is being postponed indefinitely.

The announcement, which was widely anticipated, follows production cuts at its existing North American plants, and similar measures taken by its Japanese rivals to align their output, with the demand dropping to 25-year lows.

Goss said that about 100 people who have been hired to oversee construction and install human resources plans at the plant will not lose their jobs, but will be assigned other duties.

In a statement, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said: "The news is disappointing. But I am encouraged by Toyota's commitment to finishing construction and to getting the Blue Springs plant operational as soon as market conditions allow."