WILLIAMSTOWN, W.Va. (AP) - A Toyota-owned truck manufacturer announced plans Monday to invest $8.6 million to open the state's first vehicle assembly plant and hire 80 workers in a region hit hard by the 2005 closure of another large manufacturing company.
Hino Motors Manufacturing plans to spend the money upgrading the former Walker Systems plant and installing manufacturing equipment, according to a news release from Gov. Joe Manchin's office. In addition to the governor, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller and company president Hideichiro Chikahiro attended Monday's ceremony in Williamstown.
The company plans to begin operations at the 194,000-square-foot plant in November building 2,500 trucks a year, the governor's office said.
''The Williamstown plant is not only West Virginia's first vehicle assembly plant, it's also the first assembly plant for Hino Motors in the U.S.,'' the governor said in the release. ''It's a great day for Wood County and for West Virginia.''
Rockefeller, who has been courting Hino Motors since 2001, said he was proud to have played a role in bringing the company to West Virginia.
''It's remarkable to think that in just 15 short years, our state has become home to an automobile parts manufacturer, a sheet-metal stamping plant, a producer of oxygen sensors, ignition coils and spark plugs, and now a full-scale automotive assembly plant in Williamstown,'' the senator said. ''We have all worked very hard - government, business and most importantly, West Virginia's workers - to put our state on the map, and it's clear the rest of the world is realizing that West Virginia is a world-class place to do business.''
Hino, owned by the Toyota Group, is a relatively small player in the American commercial truck market. While Hino trucks are big sellers in Japan and Thailand, a statement from the company says it sold 6,595 trucks in the United States in fiscal year 2006. By contrast, Toyota sold 17,727 Tundra trucks in May alone.
However, Hino is growing, having increased sales by 39 percent from 2005 to 2006. The company hopes to sell 7,550 trucks in fiscal year 2007.
Last month, Hino announced it will invest $70 million to add equipment to its 400,000-square-foot plant in Marion, Ark. The plant represents a $230 million investment and employs more than 600 people.
Williamstown, on the Ohio River in Wood County, suffered from the closure in 2005 of Walker Systems, which employed about 300 workers and manufactured wire and cable management and distribution systems.
Japan's Toyota operates a plant in Buffalo, which employs 900 workers building engines and transmissions. In May, the company had its best-ever U.S. sales, passing Ford Motor Co. for a spot behind General Motors Corp. as the second-highest seller in the country.