Earlier today (August 16), Toyota South Africa Motors (TSAM) celebrated the reopening of its Prospecton plant in Durban following a devastating flood that halted production for more than three months.

The damage to the plant, described as the worst of any of Toyota’s global production facilities caused by a natural disaster, will cost the Japanese carmaker tens of billions of rand.

The plant was shut down on April 12 after dirty water flooded most of the 87-hectare facility. This was as a result of water being automatically released through the Shongweni Dam locks, breaching the banks of the Mlazi River on which the plant is located.

An earlier rainstorm saw parts of KwaZulu-Natal receive more than 300mm of rain in just 24 hours, wreaking havoc across much of the province.

READ ALSO: WATCH: Toyota SA suspends operations after devastating KwaZulu-Natal floods

Water – or in some places a landslide – that entered the plant rose to a level of about 600 mm, flooding production equipment, parts and partially assembled cars inside the plant and thousands of finished cars outside.

About 4,000 cars had to be ultimately written off, with the plant in need of major cleaning, restoration and repairs. About five million liters of water had to be drained from the basement at one pressing plant alone.

With extensive support from Toyota Motors Corporation of Japan, the extensive restoration and reconstruction process allowed TSAM to resume production on most assembly lines just three months after the shutdown. All production lines will be back up and running once the Corolla Quest returns to production this Wednesday.

A set of ICs before and after the flood

“Japan never once asked, ‘How did this happen?’ It was just a case of “how can we help?” from day one,” said Andrew Kirby, president and CEO of TSAM.

“We still need to finalize the final results before we can give you an exact cost figure as not all insurance claims have been completed. The production equipment is insured against damage, as are the cars that we had to scrap.

“The real cost is approximately 70,000 cars that we were unable to produce during the shutdown. When you’re working on an average of about 400,000 rand per car, that’s a lot when you start doing the math.”

Kirby added that while some members of the 7,500-strong workforce lost up to 30% of their income for three months during the shutdown, the disaster did not result in any job losses.

Toyota Prospecton factory returns to production
Water levels caused by floods. About five million liters had to be removed from the press shop alone

The Prospecton assembly plant produces the Hilux, Fortuner, HiAce, Corolla Cross and Quest, as well as some models from Toyota’s truck division, Hino. About half of the cars produced are exported.

Even after the factory closed, Toyota quite amazingly managed to hold on to its position as South Africa’s best-selling car manufacturer for months when no cars were produced at Prospecton.

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