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An inside look at how Toyota builds their trucks in Texas

Greg Kachadurian September 15, 2016 Hooniverse Truck Thursday 33 Comments


At the height of the recession that nearly wrecked the US auto industry, I remember seeing loads of TV ads from local big three dealers which always ended with the phrase “be American; buy American”. Those dealers and plenty of other people in my social circles were promoting this notion that you weren’t American unless you bought things that were American-made. By “American-made”, the people running those ads really just meant “has an American badge on it… our American badge”.

Turns out, if you actually want to buy an American-made car, you have a lot of options besides what the big three offer. For example, BMW builds the X5 in South Carolina, Kia builds the Sorento in Georgia, Acura builds the NSX in Ohio, and as Toyota wanted me to find out, they build the Tundra and Tacoma in Texas.

That Texas plant was the subject of a recent press trip Toyota brought me on. Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas (TMMTX) is home to almost every pickup Toyota sells in America and the 2,600+ American employees building them really wish you’d stop calling their work “foreign” and “un-American”.

As I found out first hand, Toyota has gone great lengths to make their Tundra and Tacoma some of the most American trucks you can buy. It was an eye-opening experience for me and maybe it will be for you too.

Disclaimer: Toyota was so proud of their North American-produced cars and their TMMTX facility that they flew me out to Texas to go check it all out. Endless shrimp was not provided.

Toyota Manufacturing in North America


Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas (TMMTX) is located 15 miles south of San Antonio and is home to the Toyota Tundra and Tacoma, because where else would they build trucks? Not only do these trucks call Texas home, the plant itself sits on some of the land that made up one of the first officially-registered ranches in the country.

Just about every trim and cab configuration is produced there except for some Tacomas which are produced in Mexico – that depends either on cab configurations, trim level, or both. But in Texas, around 200,000 units roll off the line each year and the plant is running at 120% capacity just to try to keep up with demand.


Toyota made a $2.6 billion investment in this place, built it out to well over 2,000,000 square feet, and brought in over two dozen suppliers who work on site with them – some are even under the same roof as Toyota’s assembly line – and they still need to run over capacity to build these things fast enough.

Toyota themselves employ over 2,600 Texans at this plant six days a week between two shifts and there are even more working for the suppliers. I remember hearing a number close to 7,000 when I asked how many jobs were supported by the plant in some way or another.

During this tour, Toyota gave us lots of numbers to impress us with (some of which I can’t remember because numbers are hard) but there was a lot emphasis on their huge North American presence. TMMTX is only a fraction of their operations here; there are five other manufacturing plants like TMMTX which produce full vehicles in the US and nine other supporting manufacturing facilities across the states. As of now they’re averaging about 1.3 million vehicles produced in North America each year.

They don’t just do all of this because the weather in San Antonio is nice in the summer (it isn’t), they do it because they want to build American trucks and because it makes financial sense. Yes, American trucks. Toyota’s American-made index is something they take seriously, which according to Edmunds, has the Tundra tied for first place with the F-150 as the most American truck. 70% of the parts come from the US and Canada, the engine and transmission are built in America, and all their R&D takes place here too. The Tacoma was ranked fourth ahead of the Silverado and Sierra. These are last year’s numbers though, and Toyota plans on making them even better.

Behind the Scenes of TMMTX


Now for what actually goes in to making a Tundra and a Tacoma, a quick glance inside TMMTX serves as a reminder for how insanely complicated it is to build a modern car. 2,000,000+ square feet looks a lot bigger in person, especially when body panels, engines, electrical components, wheels, and trim pieces are stacked farther than the eye can see. From the public entrance, it’s not possible to see either end of the facility because of how much stuff is crammed inside.  Somewhere amongst the never-ending supply of car parts is an assembly line where it all has to come together.


That coming together is the responsibility of both Toyota and all their suppliers, and if you ask me, their collaboration is the most impressive thing about TMMTX. Most of those some two dozen on-site suppliers have their own buildings strategically placed around the campus but a handful have their operations literally right next to the main assembly line under the same roof.  But regardless of where the parts are coming from, they have to be precisely sorted and transported to the assembly line in time for a truck to be built. Easier said than done.


But a wonderful thing that Toyota helped develop called Just In Time (JIT) manufacturing means all those parts reach the right point of the assembly line right as they’re needed – no sooner and definitely no later. Those suppliers typically receive orders for parts an hour ahead of when the truck they’re needed for hits that part of the assembly line. 59 minutes later, that part (or assortment of parts) arrives at the right station on the line at the exact moment it’s needed. It declutters the assembly line, allows for improved response time, and does a few other things my college management professor said was good.


JIT was boring as hell to read about but fascinating to see in action. I’m talking about an endless collection of random truck parts that all somehow gets sorted, transported, and installed on the right truck at the right time. That’s on a production line that builds two very different trucks, mind you. All cab configurations of the Tacoma and Tundra are made on the same line at the same time, but they never have Tacoma cabs matching up with Tundra frames when they meet.

That’s no easy thing to accomplish, but to be fair, Toyota aren’t the only ones to do it. In fact, I think BMW’s Spartanburg plant had everyone beat when they produced the Z4 and X5 on the same line. Those two couldn’t be any more different… maybe that’s why they stopped.


Another manufacturing innovation Toyota embraced was a simple cord that’s run along the line in each of the major assembly areas. You can see it in the background above. When pulled, it activates a coupe lights and a tone which differs depending on the department. It can be used by any of the workers when they feel like hearing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” for a morale boost or when there’s something that requires extra attention.


lol I’m a hover truck

It doesn’t stop the line unless it’s really bad, but it allows for supervisors to come over and assist if needed. It could be as minor as a trim piece taking too long to install or some defect that they don’t want to pass on to the next station. To be honest, I heard those tones quite a lot. But by Toyota’s guidelines, that was just the sound of people doing their job to keep these things as defect free as possible.


In the end, every Tundra and Tacoma gets a thorough inspection under some pretty lights before getting sent out into the world. I got the chance to sample a Tacoma Limited and a Tundra TRD Pro while I was there, and as expected, there were no rattles, no squeaks, and nothing that didn’t work as advertised. I then got to tell Mike Sweers, Chief Engineer, Toyota Tundra and Tacoma, that his Tundra TRD Pro was the shit.


So what’s the takeaway here? Be American; buy whatever the hell you want. But if you want to support other Americans with your purchase, the Tacoma, Tundra, any of the fourteen Toyotas assembled in the US, and any of the other cars assembled in the US by foreign manufacturers are safe for consideration.

[Sources: Toyota USA, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, Edmunds | Image source: Toyota]

  • 0A5599

    If Toyota had a sense of humor, they would have built the factory in Johnson City.

    Because Chicken Tax.

  • oversquare bore

    Where do the profits go?…..oh Japan

    • peugeotdude505

      Toyota is a publicly traded company, is it not? So the profits go to Shareholders, which could be located anywhere. You may even have some in your retirement account.

      • dukeisduke

        Toyota has even mulled moving their global headquarters to the US. Maybe someday.

    • caltemus

      It’s not as if any of the profits that stay in this country go anywhere but the pockets of the executives running the companies.

  • dukeisduke

    Cool. I’ve wanted to tour that plant for a while (I really wanted to go in 2013, when they were still building my year Tacoma, but didn’t make it). Mine was built in San Antonio.

    • Greg Kachadurian

      It’s a good tour! It’s shorter than many of the other ones I’ve been on because they don’t make you walk the whole thing. We had a little trolley drive us around. But you got to see pretty much everything.

  • crank_case

    Really interesting article, from an Irish perspective, I find the US toyotas fascinating, it’s like a weird parallel universe. We all share a few favorites like the corolla, Prius, Yaris, RAV4, GT86, but many things are different and unique to their territory. We don’t get the Sienna or the larger trucks, but do get the Hilux. We don’t get the Camry, but do get the Avensis (kinda feel we got a bum deal on that one, but a Camry would never sell for reasons more boring than either car).

    It’s an interesting contrast how the Japanese still seem to be really keen on developing cars to really suit various markets, while everyone else seems to be going toward the “world car” model. I’m not sure it’s always a good idea. The latest Ford Fusion/Mondeo springs to mind. I can totally see how that works as a mid size car in the US, here it seems to have grown to the point of irrelevance, it’s bigger than the old Ford Europe Granada/Scorpio executive cars and I wonder if it will go the same way. What’s worse is when you have the combo of US centric car + euro miser engine… remember when we used to make lithe little saloons that would fly with only a 1600cc engine. Damnit Europe, you used to be cool.

    • Sjalabais

      The Mondeo is still one of the most popular wagons here, then again, there’s only 5 million people in Norway. It is also a shame that we don’t get the Sienna (or Odyssey or Sedona). The big van market is basically in the pale, wet hands of Volkswagen, and I won’t even consider that. Not even starting to ramble about why the Previa was discontinued.

      • crank_case

        The 1st gen Previa was awesome, but yeah there’s an odd lack of full size MPV options, anyone with an..ahem…relaxed..approach to family planning, and needs both passenger and luggage space (not just the usual 5+2 seven seater) has pretty limited options, mostly commercial van based. Mondeo sales seem to be lukewarm here. It’s a nice car, but it’s as big as a 1st gen Volvo S80, possibly wider.

        • Sjalabais

          Still on the same platform, too, right? Volvo “P2”, which was also V70 and Ford 500, among others.

          • crank_case

            Never knew the S80 had a US cousin, or indeed that the Ford 500 was a thing, did anyone stateside buy them? It looks like a Passat and a Mondeo had a kid that developed an obesity problem.

          • outback_ute

            I don’t think the Mondeo was on the Volvo platform

            • Rover 1

              One clue is the 5 x 108 pcd stud pattern used by all Volvos, (and, oddly, Ferrari.)

              • outback_ute

                Looking into it, the Mondeo was on the EUCD platform that was used for the second-generation S80 among others. The first-gen S80 was the P2 platform.

                Most Fords use a 108 mm PCD, and the second-gen Mondeo went to 5 studs.

                • Rover 1

                  They do now. Falcons don’t. Neither do the trucks. Taurus was the first. Then the X-Type and S-Type Jaguars and Lincoln LS. Then the Mondeo 5 stud, then Focus 5 stud. 5 X 108 was originally Northern European.( Fiat/Lancia/Volvo/Renault/Peugeot)

        • dukeisduke

          I owned three first-gen Previas (we have an ’08 Sienna LE now), and my kids still miss the Quad Seating (the second-row captain’s chairs that swiveled to face the third seat), and the way they, and the third row split seat, reclined so they went completely flat. The pivot points of the seats in the Sienna are designed for folding, not for passenger comfort.

          I miss the RWD, but I don’t miss the separated accessory drive system with its rubber revolvers.

  • dukeisduke

    The Tacoma body drop is interesting – the cab and box are together when they come down. I would think they’d come down separately.

    Are any of those pictures yours, or are they all Toyota’s?

    The only plant tour I’ve taken is the GM Arlington plant. I toured in 1977, when they were building BOF A-Bodies – Malibus, Monte Carlos, and Cutlasses, and again in 2005, when they were building Tahoes, Yukons, and Escalades (as they do today).

    • Greg Kachadurian

      The shots were all from Toyota’s photographer who was following around minus the window sticker at the end. We weren’t allowed to take anything with us on the tour. That tour must have looked interesting in 1977. Old factories are cool

  • Professor Lavahot

    And yet here I am in Texas, wanting to buy a Ford Transit Connect that has to be shipped over from Spain.

    • dukeisduke

      I thought they were built in Kansas City, (actually Claycomo) Missouri.

      • Professor Lavahot

        That’s the big “Transit” van, not the micro-Euro-sized “Transit Connect.”
        I don’t know why Ford couldn’t dig up a name for it. Even it’s overseas name of “Tourneo” is better.

        • outback_ute

          I think Tourneo is the passenger version, they are called the Transit Connect everywhere. Cutlass-everything strikes again!

    • Rover 1

      Or Turkey?

  • BigRedCaveTroll

    I remember listening to an NPR report a while ago about the GM/Toyota handholding that happened with the 1985-1988 Nova/Corolla. It was very interesting to hear the differences between GM’s line, which mandated that no matter what happens, keep the cars moving, and Toyota’s line, which was willing to admit mistakes, stop the line if need be, and then correct them.

    I seem to have found it, for anyone interested: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125229157 or http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/403/NUMMI

    • Greg Kachadurian

      That’s very interesting that the differences were that apparent even 30 years ago. That’s definitely something I’ve heard before too. It may have been actually been brought up by Mike Sweers at a reception during this event, if I remember correctly. He began originally at Oldsmobile sometime in the 80’s. One day the line was stopped for a defect on a car, and rather than fix it, someone came in with a forklift and rushed it off the line. It ruined the car, but it was literally not worth taking the time to fix it.

      • BigRedCaveTroll

        It’s incredible how very minute changes on an assembly line, especially for cars where profit margins are usually slim, can very quickly wreak havoc on profits.

    • dukeisduke

      My wife had a NUMMI-built ’92 Corolla, and the only things that really gave any trouble were the parts supplied by GM, like the Delco alternator.

  • MattC

    I will add that two of my coworkers own late model Tundras. They are in the world of full size trucks a veritable bargain. Both coworkers have the same spec quad cab/short bed 4×4 configuration. And while I have no need for a full size truck, the Tundra would be my first choice.

  • Ross Ballot

    Very cool. As somebody who works in manufacturing, I’d absolutely love to check this place out. Great piece!