CHARLESTON -- Many of the dignitaries who gathered in Buffalo today to celebrate the Toyota plant's 10th anniversary drove to Putnam County in a Toyota.

The surging popularity of Toyota's products in West Virginia and across North America is the fundamental reason the Buffalo plant has expanded five times since ground was broken in 1996.

For Toyota, it has been an amazing ride.

The company had zero market share in West Virginia in 1967 when the late John Iaquinta of Fairmont became the first Toyota dealer in the state. Back then, there was even some hostility from some for whom World War II was a vivid memory.

That's all changed. Last year, the Toyota Corolla was the best-selling automobile in West Virginia. The Toyota Tacoma was the fifth best-selling truck.

During the decade since ground was broken at Buffalo, Toyota's U.S. market share has almost doubled, from 7.7 to 14.2 percent.

The popularity of the company's products has promoted Toyota to add North American production capacity at a stunning pace. In addition to the $1 billion Toyota has invested at Buffalo, the company has invested $15.8 billion in other North American plants and facilities.

Toyota is quick to advertise the fact that it employs 38,340 people in North America and has a $2.9 billion payroll on this continent.

In the year ended March 31, Toyota posted record revenue and income. The company is threatening to overtake General Motors Corp. as the world's largest car producer.

Toyota sold almost 2.6 million vehicles in North America in the financial year just ended. On average, 75 percent of the content of North American-built Toyotas is procured in North America, according to the company.

Toyota's growth in North America continues. In addition to the 12 plants the company already has on this continent, plants are under construction in Texas and Ontario and a Camry assembly line is being added in Indiana.

The Buffalo plant is a showcase for both West Virginia and Toyota. For West Virginia, it exemplifies Gov. Joe Manchin's "Open for Business" slogan. For Toyota, it has earned "best engine plant productivity" honors for three consecutive years from The Harbour Report North America, which evaluates 29 engine-manufacturing operations.

During a trade mission to Japan last year, Toyota executives told Manchin and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., that the plant also is the top facility within Toyota.

Manchin and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., were expected to lead a state delegation at today's celebration of Toyota's success at Buffalo. Rockefeller, who spent years to convince Toyota to put the plant in West Virginia, is recuperating from back surgery and was unable to attend the celebration.

State legislators scheduled to attend were Sen. Karen Facemyer, R-Jackson; Sen. Charles Lanham, R-Mason, and Del. Brady Paxton, D-Putnam. Putnam County Commissioners James Caruthers and Joe Haynes were also expected to attend, as was Buffalo Mayor Kenneth Tucker.

A galaxy of Toyota executives was scheduled to be on hand, led by Takeshi Uchiyamada, executive vice president of Toyota Motor Corp. Uchiyamada was the chief engineer of the first generation Toyota Prius hybrid car.

Several others also were scheduled to make the long trip from Japan.

One of the Japanese guests, Tomoya Toriumi, is a familiar face. He was the first president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia Inc., having worked here from before the Buffalo plant was built until 2002.

Toriumi is now executive vice president of Somic Ishikawa Inc., a manufacturer of ball joints and other automotive parts.

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