WATCH | Toyota SA reopens factory plant: Locally-built Hilux, Corolla Cross back in production

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 • Toyota's Prospecton plant resumes production after April flood damage.
 • The shutdown saw the plant fail to complete the manufacturing of 70 000 vehicles.
 • Toyota remains committed to local manufacturing and its Prospecton facility.

Toyota has resumed operations at its Prospecton plant after production was halted due to damages caused by floods at the facility in April.

Toyota's Prospecton plant builds the Corolla Cross and Quest as well as Hilux, Hiace Ses'fikile and Fortuner and assembles various Hino trucks. These models account for 70% of Toyota's local sales volume. All production lines have resumed, and last week the first export shipment since the flooding left Durban harbour. It means we'll also see an increase in sales in the popular models as stock becomes available once more.

Hilux being built in KZN
Hilux being built in KZN.

Despite the automaker's good monthly sales figures thanks to imported models like the Urban Cruiser and Starlet, their Hilux and Corolla Cross numbers took a significant hit since these and other vehicles have not been on the production line since the devastating floods earlier in April. Toyota had a healthy market share of 30% before the floods, yet it shrunk down to as little as 16.3% in July. The Hilux and Corolla Cross would usually sell more than 1 000 units monthly, but these numbers dropped to less than 1000 for SA's most popular bakkie and only more than 100 units for the Corolla Cross.

SEE | Why Toyota is SA's best-selling carmaker: Here's which 5000+ models were bought in June

On 12 April, the plant was engulfed in water, up to 1.5 metres in parts. The sluice gates of the Shongweni dam were opened, and the downstream river and canal system, already under pressure due to the area receiving 300mm of rain in 24 hours, could not handle the masses of water. The result was an entire manufacturing plant covered not only in rainwater but also in silt and clay, brought in with the water, and this made the devastation so much more severe. The clean-up operations needed to be much more thorough.

Toyota Hilux rolls off the production line
Toyota Hilux rolls off the production line

"While we had genuine concerns about witnessing the trail of destruction at the plant, our first priority was the safety and welfare of employees and contractors, some of which had to be evacuated from the plant by boat. This was followed by support to dealers, suppliers, affected communities and then the recovery of plant operations," said Andrews Kirby," president and CEO of Toyota South Africa.

While more than 4000 vehicles were damaged on-site during the floods, the costliest damage was to plant infrastructure, including robots and other machinery.

"Toyota Japan very quickly offered to do whatever they could to help and did so financially and also by sending out experts in the fields of disaster management and plant operations. These experts helped diagnose and repair machinery and communicate with suppliers worldwide to source parts," added Kirby.

Toyota Corolla Cross at Prospecton Plant in KZN
Toyota Corolla Cross at Prospecton Plant in KZN

Cleaning up included sweeping, scrubbing and power washing. Machinery had to be completely stripped down and cleaned, sometimes with toothbrushes, lubricated, tested and put back together. Many machinery components and spare parts had to be replaced. Still, the global supply chain crisis means spare parts are not readily available, so many components had to be refurbished instead of replaced immediately. As those spare parts become available, they will be replaced.

"Not a single part of the 87-hectare site was untouched by the flooding. Many of our suppliers were also affected, and we sent staff to help them get their operations back online. We needed our suppliers also to recover to resume production," added Kirby.

"The clean-up operations also took longer than expected because we were not willing to compromise on the quality and thoroughness of cleaning up and getting the plant back on line just for the sake of speeding things up because this could inevitably lead to problems in future," added Kirby.

A Quest sedan being built at Toyota's plant in Dur
A Quest sedan being built at Toyota's plant in Durban.

All parts below the water line were scrapped, as were any contaminated parts or vehicles that came into contact with water in any way. Plant workers did a physical inspection of every single remaining part to ensure their quality, and absolutely no chances were taken.

"It is difficult to put a price on the damage, but it is close to R10 billion rand. This includes 4000 vehicles that were scrapped, thousands of damaged parts and damage to machinery and infrastructure. However, the real loss is in the 70 000 units of lost capacity that we were unable to produce due to the forced shutdown, which is a big portion of our planned 150 000 production units for the year," said Bronwyn Kilpatrick, vice-president of Finance and Exports, TSAM.

With the resumption of production, Toyota is looking forward to safe, stable and smooth production output while continuing to replace parts on machinery as they become available. Various countermeasures have also been put in place, such as raising electrical infrastructure, relocating IT systems to an off-site location and storing completed vehicles in a more secure location.

Toyota plant in Durban back in business
Toyota plant in Durban back in business

"Our operations at Prospecton will actually be better, and we plan to use this crisis to try and improve our equipment and upgrade where we can. In fact, we've created an internal slogan for our recovery called Rebuilding Better Together. This talks to how we all work together as one team to find a way of renewing and improving our site simultaneously," says Kirby.

"Although the plant was insured, this covers completely built-up vehicles, equipment and business continuity; there are always shortfalls, and we are still negotiating with our insurers on those payouts. We were fortunate to receive loans from Toyota Motor Corporation to tide us over, but due to the loss of production and this major setback, we will be lucky to break even this year. The resumption of production is an important milestone, but we have still not fully recovered," says Kirby.

"We have no intent to move our production facility. There has been an acknowledgement of fault from the government, and we are confident that all the infrastructure issues will be rectified, which will go a long way in preventing a flood like this from happening again. In addition, Automotive Production Development Programme Phase 2 (APDP2) has been extended to 2035, and this programme incorporates a high level of certainty and foresight for local manufacturers like ourselves. However, we need to accelerate the localisation of components to remain globally competitive. The challenge for the medium term is converting to producing new energy vehicles," Kirby concluded.

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