The last of the shiny, new Toyota Camry station wagons rolled onto the transport ship, where workers strapped them down to guard against damage in rough seas.
The cars are going against the tide.
The vehicles bearing the nameplate of Japan’s largest auto maker were built in the United States. And they were being shipped from the Port of Long Beach to showrooms in Japan.
Thousands of Toyotas have arrived by ship at the port for years. Within the last year, Toyota decided to use the empty ships to send the American-made Camry station wagon to Japan, as well as to Hawaii and to Guam and Saipan in the Mariana Islands. The station wagons, which began rolling off the assembly line in March, 1992, are built only at Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Georgetown, Ky.
The first Toyota left the Port of Long Beach for Japan last July. In all, about 3,500 Toyotas were shipped last year from the port, most of them going to Japan. That number is expected to increase to about 11,000 this year, a Toyota spokesman said.
The city will reap a slight financial benefit from the expansion, because the port receives an $18 fee per car. The expansion also is expected to create more than 100 jobs, officials said.
Toyota began exporting U.S.-manufactured cars in 1988. It exported 43,000 cars from four U.S. ports last year to 22 countries. It plans to export as many 90,000 annually later in the decade, said Joe Kane, the firm’s national export manager.
“That’s a pretty rapid and substantial growth for U.S.-built exports,” Kane said.
With an eye toward balancing the U.S. trade deficit with Japan, Toyota has committed itself to producing in the United States a large percentage of the cars and trucks it sells here.
The auto maker sold 440,000 U.S.-made Toyotas to Americans last year, a spokeswoman said. By contrast, 616,000 Toyotas made in Japan were sold in the United States.
The station wagon exported to Japan has its steering wheel on the right side and is called the Scepter. Aside from that, it is identical to the model sold in the United States, down to the metal tag that identifies it as U.S.-made.
Those tags and “Made in the U.S.A.” stickers are in demand in Japan, said Barbara McDaniel, a spokeswoman for the the Kentucky plant. The Japanese view the U.S.-made Camrys as a desirable novelty, she said.
“In terms of customer satisfaction, we’ve been receiving very good reports.”