Toyota is now building models of its Yaris compact car in France for export to the US, Canada and Puerto Rico, the first ever model to be built in Europe for the North American market. Previously the North American-sold Yaris has only been made in Japan.

The 1.5-litre petrol-fuelled model (in automatic and manual transmission versions) is being made at the Toyota Motor Manufacturing France (TMMF) plant at Valenciennes and Toyota said that full annual export volumes would reach 25,000.

The plant is now exporting vehicles to more than 40 countries around the world.

Last year Toyota sold 30,000 Yaris hatchbacks in the US, with 8,000 sold in Canada and a further 8,000 in Puerto Rico. This exceeds the 25,000 forecasted for TMMF’s export production but Toyota said the Yaris SE sport version will continue to come from Japan. In addition, part of the figure includes the Yaris sedan which was previously sold in North America but which has been discontinued.

The export models will mean a 10% increase in production at Valenciennes and the company is investing and additional €10m ($12.8m) to make the North American model. The production increase also means extra demands on inbound parts supply. A spokesperson for the carmaker told Automotive Logistics News there were around 500 new part numbers for the North American version that are being sourced 50% from France, with the remaining 50% coming from wider Europe, Turkey and Japan. As well as the 1.5-litre engine and automatic transmission, other differences between the European and North American versions include the front and rear headlights, a thicker bumper and a different front seat and floor pan.

Toyota said there were three main reasons for beginning exports of the Yaris from France now (there are currently no plans to export any other models).

The first reason is because production of the model at the Valenciennes plant is globally competitive in terms of quality, efficiency and flexibility of production. The Yaris has been built there for more than 11 years across three generations, and includes the hybrid version for Europe, which was introduced last year.

“It [also] allows us to maximise capacity utilisation at TMMF,” said the spokesperson. “The volume for export is a welcome addition at a time when the Western European market has shown a 26% decline since its peak in 2007.”

The third reason is that Toyota wants to create a production structure that can avoid or limit the impact of currency fluctuations, said the spokesperson. Exports from Japan to North America have had an impact on margins at the Japanese carmakers during a sustained period of strength in the yen and many have announced production shifts over the last couple of years. While the yen has since weakened substantially, Japanese OEMs, including Toyota, continue to diversify their production sources.

Production of the Yaris exports began on May 6th and they are being transported by road to Toyota’s main logistics hub at the port of Zeebrugge in Belgium. Toyota has contracts with Gefco and Macotruck (a Belgian finished vehicle carrier) to move the vehicles between the plant and the port.

From there the carmaker is using “public service” lines to transport the vehicles by ocean to the markets in North America. As well as the port of Puerto Rico, vehicles for Canada will be taken to Halifax and Nova Scotia, while for the US they will ship to Newark, Jacksonville and Long Beach. Onward delivery will be by truck or train depending on the arrangements made by Toyota in the respective markets.

At an official ceremony held last week to mark the production of the export models at Valenciennes, Toyota Motor Europe’s president and CEO, Didier Leroy, said that as well as the highly skilled and quality-minded employees at Valenciennes, the proximity of good logistics and supplier networks were major factors in the success of the plant.