By now, some 2,000 employees were supposed to be working at Toyota Motor Corp.'s new plant in Blue Springs, MS, assembling about 150,000 vehicles annually.

Instead, the completed facility sits vacant, and near-term prospects for production are bleak, Yoshimi Inaba, president and COO of Toyota Motor North America, tells journalists.

The finished building has no assembly equipment inside. Toyota had hired about 100 employees, and some have been temporarily dispatched to other locations.

A spokesman says a handful of Japanese staff at the plant finished their U.S. assignments and returned to Japan. About 75 employees work onsite now, preparing to begin hiring and initiating plant policies in anticipation that Toyota will start production in Blue Springs.

Once the green light is given, it will take 18 to 24 months to order, install and test equipment before the first salable vehicle rolls off the assembly line. Toyota initially planned to build the Highlander cross/utility vehicle there but later slotted in the Prius hybrid-electric vehicle.

In late January, Toyota announced plans to halt assembly at five North American plants and instructed dealers to suspend sales of eight models involved in a massive recall for defective accelerator pedals.

Before production at the plants stopped, Inaba said the auto maker was “trying to utilize the North American plants as much as possible,” and that the auto maker's capacity utilization rate was still “over 90%,” considered healthy.

Toyota imported 664,902 cars and light trucks into the U.S. in 2009, meaning it produced in North America 62% of the 1.8 million vehicles it sold in the region, according to Ward's data.

Rival Honda Motor Co. Ltd. imported 186,640 light vehicles in 2009, which translates into domestic production of 84% of the 1.2 million vehicles sold.