COVID-19

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing plant opening delayed until late 2021 due to coronavirus

Ground was broken for the new plant in 2018.

Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

New reporting by AutomotiveNews confirms that the production at the new Mazda Toyota Manufacturing plant in Huntsville, Alabama will be delayed until later in 2021 than initially planned due to the economic effects of COVID-19.

In a statement to AutomotiveNews, Toni Eberhart, a spokeswoman for Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, said, "On April 9, we informed state and local government officials in Alabama, along with our key suppliers, how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting our ability to maintain critical equipment delivery schedules, creating labor shortages and slowing construction."

On April 4, construction at the site was suspended as to be compliant with the governor's stay-at-home order. However, on April 7, work was resumed in areas of the plat where health and safety guidelines put forth by the Alabama Department of Public Health could be met.

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing confirmed two cases of COVID-19 among its workforce on April 10 and recommended that anyone who had contact with those individuals self-quarantine for two week in accordance with Centers for Disease Control guidelines.

Initial plans for the $1.6 billion plant included the production of the Toyota Corolla. Last year Toyota announced a change of plans that would see Corolla production staying at Toyota's plant in Mississippi while the Alabama plant would instead produce a, "new, yet-to-be announced SUV" for Toyota and Mazda. Internally, it's referred to as at the "890B project".

Plans now call for producing 150,000 units of each model. However, production might not start now until 2022.

Other automakers, including Rivian, are likely seeing manufacturing plans delayed for months as well. A number of vehicle debuts have been pushed back due to cancelled auto shows and social distancing guidelines. Other projects, like vehicle refreshes for the Chevrolet Traverse and Equinox, which were further down the pipeline, are simply having their refreshes pushed to 2022. Plans for new trucks are also uniquely impacted.

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

The 2020 Toyota Yaris punches above its weight.

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

Folks are always fascinated about what I do for a living. "Oh, you drive a different car every week? That's so exciting!"

What follows is a fairly predictable set of questions. "What's your favorite car?" (Rolls-Royce Wraith). "Have you ever driven on a race track?" (Numerous times.) "What's the fastest you've driven?" (180 MPH in a Porsche Panamera on the Autobahn in Germany.)

But then I'll start asking them questions, trying to learn about what they drive and why. What car do you have and why did you buy it? What other cars did you consider? What do you look for in an automobile?

2020 Toyota Yaris The Yaris has Toyota looks up front.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

It's my own form of market research. I can't review a car if I don't understand who my reader is and how to best guide them. It's part of why I don't dive too deep into horsepower and performance figures — I've found that, performance cars excepted, most vehicles perform adequately for the everyday tasks that people buy them for.

That brings us to this week's car, which is perhaps one of the least-interesting cars I've tested — but in a very good way. The sub-$20,000 2020 Toyota Yaris Hatchback is aimed solidly at folks who want an affordable, entry-level vehicle that's safe, practical, and with just a touch of luxury-ishness.

My tester was the (slightly) fancier XLE trim, pricing out at $19,680. It's equipped with an adequate if unexciting 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine churning out a whopping 106-horsepower. The engine might be tiny, but it comes with the added bonus of 32/40/35 mpg (city/highway/combined) fuel economy. It's paired to a six-speed automatic transmission (and a real transmission too, not a continuously variable unit that some folks love to hate).

2020 Toyota Yaris The hatchback is convenient but the car also comes in a sedan variant.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

It has 16-inch wheels, a bunch of airbags, LED headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a seven-inch color touch screen complete with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It has push-button start, keyless entry, and power windows, locks and mirrors. Oh, and there's automatic climate control too, which I've seen missing on cars that cost way more than this.

Here's where things get a bit confusing. Toyota sells the Yaris in other markets around the world, and it's their own in-house vehicle. But the Yaris sold in America is a rebadged Mazda2 that's assembled at Mazda's facility in Salamanca, Mexico. It's related to the Toyota Yaris sedan which used to be called the Scion iA, which is also built by Mazda, but also has the Toyota brand on it.

Whatever.

2020 Toyota Yaris The Yaris rides okay, about what you’d expect for a sub-$20,000 vehicle.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

I've driven a lot of Mazdas and a lot of Toyotas, and it's obvious to me that this is a Mazda. That's not a bad thing. Mazdas vehicles have punched above their weight for a long time (I had a 2011 Mazda3 for years, and I've praised them frequently in these pages), bringing both upscale materials and design to lower-priced segments. That's true here too. The Mazda2 — I mean, Toyota Yaris Hatchback — doesn't feel like a stripped down econobox. It's small and maneuverable and the engine, though a little noisy, gets you through traffic nicely.

It's a great new car for a teenager or for someone looking to spend as little money on a new car as possible. New cars, after all, come with new car warranties and can appeal to folks who don't want to imagine what came before when buying something used.

The Yaris competes with the Honda Fit, which is a perennial favorite in this class, and it seems a little nicer and a little more polished, though with less rear-seat legroom if you anticipate carrying adults back there.

2020 Toyota Yaris Even low-cost models have an infotainment screen these days.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

The front is comfortable and attractive enough, with solid buttons and knobs and dials that are all pleasing to touch and fiddle with (which isn't as common as you'd think). It seems to be a better car than it's bargain-basement price would indicate, with a solid ride, comfortable seats and two reliable names behind it.

I took it to Costco (as I have with all my COVID-era test drives) and, with the 60/40 seats folded down, was able to fill it with ease. It swallowed up toilet paper and paper towels and a case of Diet Dr. Pepper and all manner of other things. It's no Rolls-Royce Wraith, but I'd be happy to recommend the little Yaris to someone looking for a new car that won't break the bank.

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Each center followed CDC guidelines for testing eligibility: patients with a doctor order, must have clinical factors of at-risk populations (like children with cancer), or work as health / child care professionals.

Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

Hyundai Hope On Wheels, a charity linked to the Hyundai Motor Company, has provided funding to enable more than one million COVID-19 tests at 23 testing sites nationwide.

In March, the company launched the funding initiative initially for 11 hospitals, which each received a $200,000 grant explicitly to be used for testing. Just after Easter, the company doubled the number receiving support. At the time, the $4 million in grant monies covered 22 hospitals in 16 states. An addition site was added later.

Hyundai Hope on Wheels Testing Hyundai Hope on Wheels donated over $4 million for COVID-19 testing centers at children's hospitals. Photo by Getty Images

Additionally, Hyundai also provided an in-kind donation of 65,000 COVID-19 RT-PCR tests developed by Seegene, a South Korea-based global leader in multiplex molecular diagnostics. Hyundai's headquarters is in South Korea. Seegene's test can simultaneously detect three different genes (N, E and RdRP) of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19.

Hyundai and its over 825 dealers also provided support to local institutions with financial assistance, food donations, face mask headband production and loaned vehicles.

"We are grateful for the tireless work of the healthcare workers on the frontlines of the pandemic that made this milestone possible," said Kevin Reilly, Board Member of Hyundai Hope On Wheels and President of Alexandria Hyundai. "Testing is the key to reopening our country safely and we are proud to support our partners in this ongoing and critical effort."

Hyundai Hope on Wheels COVID testing Hyundai's donations helped enable over one million tests. Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

In addition to COVID-19 tests, Hyundai Hope On Wheels provides grants to institutions that research pediatric cancers. Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in September, HHOW will award 26 new research grants totaling $6.2 million to researchers at children's hospitals nationwide in their relentless pursuit of life-saving treatments. The company began their support of this aspect of the healthcare industry in 1998.

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