TRAVERSE CITY, MI – The layoff of temporary workers at Toyota Motor Corp.’s Princeton, IN, assembly plant is only a temporary measure, a company executive says.

Gary Convis, executive vice president-Toyota Motor Engineering and Mfg. North America, says the auto maker is “the most committed long-term employer in the world.”

“I think the word layoff is a little misleading,” he tells Ward’s at the Management Briefing Seminars here.

Some 56 temporary workers recently were idled at Toyota Motor Mfg. Indiana Inc., a result of rising gas prices that have slowed sales of fullsize Sequoia SUVs and Tundra pickup trucks.

A report out of Indiana says it was the largest single monthly workforce reduction at the plant.

Toyota has a staff of 450 temporary workers at Princeton, according to the report.

“It’s a temporary issue, and that’s what they’re there for,” Convis says of the indirect workers. “They know that they’re in line to come back,” and most of Toyota’s temporary workers go on to become direct employees, he adds.

Convis says lower-seniority members were cut at Princeton, but he assures they’ll be “back to work” as the Indiana plant gears up to begin production of the new ’07 Tundra in January.

Meanwhile, Convis spoke Thursday about the development and production launch process for the new ’07 Toyota Camry sedan.

Convis says the launch is going well, with warranty claims down 33% vs. the last-generation Camry. The Camry now is built at eight plants worldwide, up from five for the outgoing car.

“According to our internal data, this launch is the best ever for a North American vehicle,” he says, calling the last-generation launch “pretty good to begin with.”

A recent development in terms of Camry production is the addition of a so-called “quiet tunnel” at Georgetown, KY, where the majority of Camrys sold in North America are produced.

In the first six months since the testing tunnel was introduced, unwanted rattles and noises were reduced by more than 90%, Convis says.

And, in a continuing show of independence for Toyota in North America, Convis says no trainers were sent from Japan to assist in the North American Camry launch.

Five years ago, Toyota’s Japanese trainers were sent over for the equivalent of 671 work-months, he says.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com