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Toyota plans to reopen one more automaking plant in Japan

By Greg Botelho, CNN
A journalist drives a new wagon-style hybrid Prius hybrid vehicle at a Toyota showroom in Tokyo on March 7, 2011.
A journalist drives a new wagon-style hybrid Prius hybrid vehicle at a Toyota showroom in Tokyo on March 7, 2011.
  • Starting April 11, production will resume at the Saga Mihara plant south of Tokyo
  • That means 3 plants will be running in Japan, while another 15 remain shut down
  • A company spokesman says, "This is definitely progress, but we're not home-free yet"
  • There is no plan to halt operations at Toyota's North American plants, he adds

(CNN) -- Starting next week, Toyota will resume vehicle production at a third plant in Japan, a company spokesman said Wednesday.

Fifteen other facilities remain shut down following last month's epic earthquake and tsunami.

The assembly line will begin rolling again on April 11 at the Saga Mihara facility, located south of Tokyo, according to Toyota spokesman Paul Nolasco.

The production facility will join two other plants in Japan that likewise have been creating Toyota and Lexus brand cars -- in those cases, hybrid vehicles -- since March 28.

"This is definitely progress," Nolasco said from Tokyo. "But we're not home-free yet."

Toyota, the world's biggest automaker, has seen its operations significantly curtailed since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami led to the deaths of more than 12,000 people, upended industry, damaged infrastructure, and made living and working conditions difficult for millions throughout Japan.

Nolasco explained that many of the biggest challenges for Toyota, like other Japan-based vehicle companies like Honda and Nissan, have been logistical -- namely, the difficulty in getting needed electronic, rubber and other parts needed to produce the cars.

The company had plans to wind down production at the Saga Mihara plant and transfer most of its functions up north to a new facility in Miyagi prefecture, which was affected by the natural disaster. The disaster has changed that timetable, though Nolasco said in the long run that plan remains in place.

There are no plans to shut down production at Toyota facilities in North America, Nolasco said, knocking down some published reports. Generally, he said most operations outside of Japan -- where most of the carmakers' production takes place -- "are keeping at their regular pace."

The disaster has taken a major toll on Toyota, like many other businesses in Japan.

While there's been no monetary amount detailing its cost to the company, Nolasco said that, as of April 1, Toyota had made 200,000 fewer vehicles than planned due to the crisis.

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