March 14, 2019 / 3:07 PM / 9 days ago

Toyota investing $749 million in five U.S. plants, adding 586 jobs

(Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp said on Thursday it will invest $749 million in five U.S. plants and add 586 jobs as it boosts engine production capacity and adds new hybrid models to its lineup.

FILE PHOTO: A Toyota logo is displayed at the 89th Geneva International Motor Show in Geneva, Switzerland March 5, 2019. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy

President Donald Trump has prodded Japanese automakers to add more jobs in the United States as the White House has threatened to impose tariffs of up to 25 percent on imported vehicles, on the grounds of national security.

“All this activity I hope shows that we’re a plus factor to the economic national security of the United States,” Toyota North America Chief Executive Jim Lentz told reporters on a conference call. “We believe in America.”

Toyota and other automakers have been lobbying heavily to block any new tariffs on imported vehicles.

Toyota said it will invest $288 million in Alabama to increase annual engine capacity from 670,000 to 900,000 by the end of 2021 and will add new 4-cylinder and V6 engine lines. It will also invest $238 million in a Kentucky plant to build hybrid versions of the Toyota RAV4 and Lexus ES 300h.

Toyota announced last year it would jointly build a new $1.6 billion plant with Mazda Motor Corp in Alabama.

Toyota said it will exceed a 2017 pledge to invest $10 billion over five years with a new commitment to reach nearly $13 billion over the same period, including Thursday’s announcement.

Toyota President Akio Toyoda will be in Washington Friday to deliver a speech in which he is expected to tout the new investments.

Last month, the U.S. Commerce Department sent a “Section 232” national security report to Trump with recommendations that auto industry officials expect to include at least some tariffs on fully assembled vehicles or on technologies and components related to electric, automated, connected and shared vehicles.

Lentz told reporters the automaker is eager to find out the findings, including for the 137,000 Americans he said design, build or sell Toyota vehicles in the United States.

“They deserve to know if they’re a security threat,” he said. “Consumers need to know because they need to understand if their costs for every vehicle they purchase ... is going to go up.”

Lentz said the new trade deal the Trump administration has negotiated to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement had played a role in the new investment decisions, but he did not elaborate on how significant that role was.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and James Dalgleish

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