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Putnam plant helps Toyota retake top automaker spot

By Megan Workman

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Toyota retook the No. 1 automaker worldwide title from General Motors in 2012, thanks in part to the Buffalo plant employees who build the engines and transmissions, the Putnam County plant's spokeswoman said.

Toyota sold 9.7 million cars and trucks worldwide last year. GM sold 9.29 million.

While the Japanese company's sales increased 22 percent last year, GM's sales rose just 2.9 percent in the same time period.

Sandy Maynard said workers at the West Virginia plant are Toyota's "most valuable asset" who are responsible for the company's surge in sales.

"[Our employees] are the key to anything our plant accomplishes," Maynard said. "Our team members are committed to building the highest quality engines and transmissions for our vehicles."

Much of Toyota's strong sales last year are due to the introduction of 19 all new or substantially redesigned vehicles, said Carly Schaffner, business communications manager for Toyota Motor Sales USA. Those vehicles accounted for about 40 percent of the company's total sales, she said.

"This launch was the most aggressive in Toyota's history," Schaffner said. "As we move into 2013, and the market sees continued growth, we expect to outperform the industry once again with another nine product launches on the horizon."

The Putnam facility increased production too, recently. In November, the company announced it would invest $45 million to boost production from 400,000 six-speed automatic transmissions to 520,000 a year, Maynard said.

The expansion -- on schedule to be completed by July -- created 80 new jobs at the plant, which increased employment to 1,200, she said.

The Buffalo plant builds transmissions and engines for the Avalon, Camry, Lexus RX350, Sienna and Venza.

Schaffner said Toyota and Lexus hybrid vehicle sales rose more than 83 percent last year and claimed 70 percent of the hybrid market share.

"Our commitment to hybrid technology paid big dividends in 2012," Schaffner said. "We are firmly focused on building the best products and taking the best care of customers."

Maynard said employees at the Putnam County facility will "remain to build where we sell."

"Toyota's track record for safety, reliability and quality is strong.  That's why 80 percent of all Toyotas sold in the U.S. over the past 20 years are still on the road today," Maynard said.

GM was the top-selling automaker worldwide for more than seven decades until Toyota finished first in 2008. GM retook the title in 2011 until Toyota came out on top last year.

Reach Megan Workman at megan.workman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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