GEORGETOWN, KY – Flexibility for the future is the key driver of the $1.33 billion investment under way to retool Toyota Motor North America’s Georgetown, KY, assembly plant.

The overhaul is designed around the automaker’s new scalable TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) vehicle platform that underpins the ’18 Camry, which celebrated Job One here on June 28, and will roll out to additional models built at the Georgetown facility over the next couple of years.

Making its North American manufacturing debut, the new global platform launched with the Japan-built ’16 Prius hybrid and also is the basis for the C-HR small CUV exported to the U.S. from Turkey. But the Camry, which boasts all-new powertrains and other enhancements, represents the most complex application for the architecture to date.

Ultimately, TNGA will spawn all of Toyota’s front-drive vehicles, and that’s when the money spent at this 31-year-old plant really begins to pay dividends.

“(Part of) that $1.33 billion (investment) is to get this factory reborn for the next 30 years,” says Dan Antis, manufacturing vice president-stamping prep at the Georgetown plant.

Among key investments is a more versatile engine-dress line, Georgetown’s first aluminum stamping press and new welding operations to accommodate the more-strategic use of ultra-high-strength steel in the car’s underbody.

Additional changes revolve around improving assembly-line ergonomics to make the job easier for workers and enhance vehicle quality. That includes carriers that raise and lower cars for optimal access as they move down the line, as well as special devices that assist line workers in some of the trickier tasks, such as installing the Camry’s exhaust system. Brighter LED lighting also has been installed in some areas, with plans to take that plant-wide in coming months.

Besides helping build a better product, the investment will allow Toyota to respond more quickly to sudden market shifts. The automaker was caught flat-footed as U.S. consumers seemingly overnight began leaving sedans for CUVs in droves, and the retooling of Georgetown is aimed at avoiding a repeat of that scenario down the road.

The Camry and Avalon accounted for 19.6% of Toyota’s U.S. sales in 2015, but that figure fell to 16.7% for January-June this year. The launch of the ES 350 in 2015 has helped lessen Georgetown’s vulnerability to the market’s CUV swing, but volume for that model is declining too, down 21.8% from year-ago for the first six months of 2017, and it’s not hard to envision a day when the massive factory will need to build more than just sedans to keep humming.

Once TNGA is fully implemented, the Kentucky operation will be able to shift its mix quickly to any body style and powertrain lineup to better match production with demand.

By 2020, half of all Toyota vehicles worldwide will be based on the new global architecture, the automaker says, noting an ideal TNGA plant is designed to build up to eight different models and a combined 200,000 vehicles annually.

“The benefit will be (with) changeovers in the future,” Antis says. “A new model? We don’t have to worry about the platform. We don’t have to change the tooling on all the lifters, transfers and conveyors, because that platform doesn’t change. And every (TNGA vehicle) in the world has the same underbody and will fit in this plant.

“So it costs a little more now (in tooling), but in the future we will see the cost advantages based on this new design.”