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Toyota marks 25th anniversary of car making in Canada at Cambridge plant


CAMBRIDGE, Ont. — A day after Toyota celebrated the start of Corolla production at its new Mississippi assembly plant in the United States, the big Japanese carmaker marked its 25th anniversary making vehicles in Canada on Friday.

Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada hosted a celebration in the southwestern Ontario city of Cambridge, where the company began its Canadian operations in 1986.

At the time, the company estimated it would have 1,000 workers and produce 50,000 cars a year. Today, the automaker operates three plants in Ontario and employs about 6,500 workers.

Last year, it built more than 458,000 Toyota and Lexus vehicles at plants in Cambridge and nearby Woodstock.

“(Toyota Motor Manufacturing) has become one of Toyota’s largest, most successful manufacturing operations in the world,” Toyota Corp. president Akio Toyoda said at the ceremony, attended by federal, provincial and local officials.

“It has done so by consistently exceeding expectations.”

Ontario has seen traditional Detroit Three carmakers — GM, Ford and Chrysler — cut tens of thousands of jobs in the last decade as their parent companies restructured in the United States. But Toyota and Honda have expanded their operations in Ontario, Canada’s manufacturing heartland.

“Toyota is an essential part of Ontario’s auto industry, and a big reason why the province continues to be the leading jurisdiction in North America for vehicle assembly,” said Brad Duguid, Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development and Innovation.

Still those companies have faced problems in Asia, where the March earthquake and tsunami and the recent massive flooding in Thailand have cut parts supplies and slowed down their global output, even in Canada.

On Thursday, a ceremony in Blue Springs, Miss. formally marked the recent start of production, almost five years after Toyota announced it would build a new plant in the tiny town in the sparsely populated hills of north Mississippi.

Toyota, on hand for the ceremony, blamed the setback on the sluggish American economy but said the time was now right for production.

It is the 14th plant in North America for the Japanese company, which builds 12 models, including the Camry, RAV4 and Tacoma pickup. Together, they account for nearly 70 per cent of Toyota’s U.S. sales.