Originally created 05/06/04

Japanese parts plant could be prelude to assembly plant



LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- A Japanese truck parts plant expected to be built in eastern Arkansas will be the first step in a process that could end with establishment of a truck assembly plant, sources told The Associated Press.

Sources said Tuesday that the Hino Motors Ltd. decision to build the plant in Arkansas is a prelude to building an assembly plant. The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Hino will announce plans later for an assembly plant to open sometime around 2007.

Gov. Mike Huckabee's office announced Wednesday morning that the governor would hold an afternoon news conference at Marion to formally announce plans for the parts plant, which is expected to be built in a farm field just west of Memphis, Tenn. The governor's office said Huckabee would make a "major economic development announcement."

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper of Little Rock reported Tuesday that Hino, affiliated with Toyota Motor Corp., would announce this month that it would build a parts plant near Marion. The Evening Times newspaper of West Memphis reported Tuesday that, according to a translation of a Japanese press report, Hino intends to eventually build trucks in Crittenden County.

The sources said Hino would announce, possibly this summer, that it would build trucks at Marion as part of its separately announced plan to increase international sales. Hino makes medium and large trucks and buses.

Hino's Web site features six truck models up to 33,000 pounds. The Internet site also lists distributors in Missouri, Tennessee and Texas as the closest places to Arkansas that sell the Hino brand.

Toyota considered the eastern Arkansas site last year but selected San Antonio as the home for a new truck plant. In passing over the Arkansas location, it praised the "transportation infrastructure, the workforce and the incredibly positive attitude of the state."

Huckabee spokesman Jim Harris repeated the governor's statement that it was too early to speak about development at the east Arkansas site.

Land at Marion was offered to Toyota last year for the $800 million truck plant that went to Texas.

Every state bordering Arkansas has some type of auto plant, but Toyota last year praised how Arkansas could move goods in and out of the state. Five major railroads meet near Marion, as do two cross-country interstate highways. The Mississippi River also is nearby.

As late as 2002, Arkansas wasn't interested in pursuing an auto plant, with former economic development director Barbara Pardue once saying that one plant in particular, a 2,000-worker plant for Alabama, was not "a big project" to pursue.

The state also did nothing to pursue a Nissan truck plant that went to Mississippi.

Hino announced last week that it plans to increase its international sales by 300 percent - to 150,000 vehicles - by 2010.

The Evening Times said Hino plans to begin producing trucks in California this October and that part or all of its production will eventually move to Marion. The AP sources said Hino would eventually assemble trucks in Arkansas, perhaps by 2007.

The vehicle assembly plant would be the state's first since the Climber automobile was built at Little Rock between 1919 and 1923.