Toyota expands N.C. battery plant plans

Toyota Motor North America’s first battery factory in the United States is already growing, even as construction work on the rural site in North Carolina is in its earliest phases.

The Japanese automaker announced last week it would nearly triple its investment in the plant, to $3.8 billion from $1.3 billion. In addition to supplying cells and modules for hybrid vehicle batteries — announced when plans to build the plant were unveiled in December — the facility will also build electric vehicle batteries.

The additional investment increases the size of the plant near the small town of Liberty, and will boost planned employment to 2,100 from 1,750. Production is expected to begin in 2025.

In late 2021, Toyota Motor Corp. announced a global investment of about $70 billion to fund its future electrification efforts. On Aug. 31, Toyota announced a future battery production commitment of $5.6 billion, including expansion in North Carolina.

Norm Bafunno, senior vice president for unit manufacturing and engineering with Toyota Motor North America, told Automotive News the plant’s expansion will allow sufficient production capacity to serve four hybrid-electric vehicle lines and two battery-electric vehicle lines.

“We started with four and talked about going with two more hybrid-electric vehicle lines, but we are pivoting now,” he said.

Toyota confirmed the added investment is at least in part a response to passage in August of the Inflation Reduction Act, which seeks to encourage automakers to invest in battery manufacturing and materials sourcing in the U.S.

A spokesperson said Toyota “likes to build the product where it is sold,” so the company is aligning its footprint for electrification in the region. It’s going to take time, the company acknowledged, and there’s still much work to be done.

At $3.8 billion, the North Carolina battery plant represents Toyota’s third-largest factory investment in the U.S., trailing only its huge assembly plants in Georgetown, Ky. ($8.5 billion in total investments since 1986) and Princeton, Ind. ($6.6 billion since 1998).

Construction crews are doing site work on the 1,800-acre parcel, from which Toyota’s battery plant will soon grow. Even in its expanded form, Toyota Battery Manufacturing North Carolina will occupy only a small portion of the land. Initially, Toyota estimated the plant would provide batteries for about 200,000 vehicles annually, but Baffuno said updated capacity estimates that include EVs aren’t yet available.

The plant, which will be run in cooperation with subsidiary Toyota Tsusho, will manufacture cells and modules for installation into battery packs closer to the planned vehicles’ final assembly point, much like any other component. “We feel we’re going to have some pretty good efficiency with shipping these modules because of their size, what they look like, and their density pack,” Bafunno said.

The automaker has begun assembling the battery plant’s management team, including bringing in people with Toyota experience from elsewhere in the country. Bafunno said local hiring for maintenance and production staff will likely begin early next year.

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