Construction continues at an auto plant in Blue Springs, Miss., despite an announcement by Toyota that it would delay production of its Highlander SUV until first quarter 2010.

When Toyota Motor Corp. announced on May 8 that it would delay production of its 2010 Highlander, the shock waves never reached Blue Springs, Miss.

“This is certainly news to me and the guys at the site,” says Catherine Malicki, director of marketing for SSOE Inc. of Toledo, Ohio, designer of the new $1.3-billion Toyota auto manufacturing facility in this northwest Mississippi town.

That’s because the production delay will not affect the design and construction of the plant that will produce the Highlander. At least not yet.

“Construction is moving forward with the original schedule,” says Lacy Luckett, external affairs specialist with Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi in Tupelo. “And we plan to move into the facility by the end of this year, or early 2009.”

Still, initial production numbers have been reduced from 150,000 to 120,000 vehicles.

“The economy has certainly played a role in our decision,” Luckett adds. “The automobile industry looks somewhat ominous for a lot of people right now and we have to prepare for that. But we’ve always planned to begin production with the 2010 Highlander, and that hasn’t changed.” She adds that delaying production at the facility from fourth quarter 2009 to first quarter 2010 will also “give us more time to train our team members there.”

A Toyota press release blames the delay on weakening sales figures. The world's second-largest auto company said fourth quarter net income decreased 28 percent and predicted a 27 percent drop in earnings this year, the first annual profit decline since 1999.

The manufacturer hopes to move toward full production capacity at the Blue Springs plant as the economy improves.

In the meantime, a contingent of contractors continues work at the site. They include the joint ventures of Walbridge of Detroit and W. G. Yates Construction of Philadelphia, Miss.; Graycor Construction Co. of Homewood, Ill., and Harrell Contracting Group LLC of Ridgeland, Miss.; and L&T Construction of Hernando, Miss., and Aristeo Construction of Livonia, Mich.

C. E. Frazier, a spokesman with Graycor/Harrell, says he can only speculate how the production delay will impact current contracts. The joint venture is responsible for erecting four of the buildings at the site.

“Thus far, it hasn’t affected us to a great degree,” Frazier says. “They’re holding up in some areas, in some of the pits and things of that nature, because they’re trying to tweak the design of the Highlander. But we’re moving forward because our costs and overhead continue.”

About 2,000 workers, many of them local, are scheduled to be on the 1,700-acre site at the peak of construction this summer.

The Blue Springs plant is one of four global Toyota plants that have been designated as sustainable plants. This is a continuation of Toyota’s focus on reducing energy use by 27 percent at all their manufacturing facilities by 2011.

The plants incorporate innovative technology including renewable energy, such as wind and solar power or biomass, to help the local community conserve the environment. All Toyota plants are also zero landfill.

SSOE’s Malicki says the site already made history when it became the largest site work and earthmoving project that Toyota has ever undertaken in the U.S. The civil engineering feat required moving 16 million cu yds of earth to make the site level.

Contractors began moving the earth on Sept. 1, coinciding with the start of foundation and structural steel construction.

The Blue Springs earthwork package represents four times more earth moved in less time than any other Toyota project in North America. SSOE engineers faced the challenge to develop a plan to move roughly enough dirt to fill an average NFL football stadium approximately 25 times.