TRAVERSE CITY, MI – The ’07 Toyota Tundra pickup will go on sale in the U.S. in “early or mid-February,” not January as had been expected, the auto maker says.

“We want to make sure everything is perfect," a company spokeswoman says.

The Tundra originally was set to go on sale in late 2006, then was delayed until early 2007, purportedly to avoid the distraction of the holidays.

“We won’t be adding that many Tundras to the mix” this year, a Toyota manufacturing spokesman says here at the Management Briefing Seminars. “It’ll be a pretty slow ramp-up, and everything kicks in in January and February.”

A second shift will begin in San Antonio in March, he says.

Production is due to start Nov. 17 in San Antonio, with the Tundra coming online at Toyota’s Princeton, IN, plant in January.

Toyota is delaying the market introduction until February so it can be sure all of its U.S. dealers have at least one Tundra to sell, a source tells Ward’s.

Gary Convis, executive vice president-Toyota Motor Engineering and Mfg. North America, denies there have been issues with finding qualified applicants to fill the San Antonio jobs, especially those at the 21 onsite suppliers.

Ward’s reported in June some of the co-located suppliers were having difficulty filling the 2,000 open positions. As of mid-June, just 800 had been hired.

“It appears everything is going on schedule (in San Antonio), and there is not a problem finding good people to work with,” he tells reporters.

Convis says he met with one of the suppliers recently, Johnson Controls Inc., which is providing seats for the Tundra, and says JCI didn’t indicate it was having difficulty in hiring.

However, Convis suspects there might have been some issues finding qualified applicants to fill the more technical positions and equipment maintenance roles at the assembly plant.

He says the biggest challenge in opening the San Antonio plant is “training,” due to the number of suppliers onsite. The San Antonio complex represents Toyota’s first supplier park in North America.

Convis maintains Toyota will not “rush” the Tundra start-up, saying the auto maker must make sure quality is a priority.

Recently, Toyota has seen its quality reputation tarnished by a series of recalls and defects investigations involving its vehicles.

Earlier this week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. upgraded its investigation concerning suspension failures in older-model Tundras.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com