YORK TWP., MI – Toyota Technical Center (TTC) opens its new $187 million campus here today.

Toyota Motor Corp.’s goal of producing 2.2 million vehicles in North America by the end of 2010, “puts a lot of importance on this facility,” says Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. President Jim Lentz.

The new campus includes a 350,000-sq. ft. (32,515 sq.-m) engineering design building and 180,000 sq.-ft. (16,722 sq.-m) safety test facility, the first of its kind outside Japan, Lentz tells Ward’s.

Along with Toyota’s nearby Ann Arbor campus, the two facilities employ 1,007 workers. When ground was broken in spring 2006, Toyota said it intended to add 400 workers to its 700-strong Ann Arbor staff once operations here were launched.

It is nearly to the goal, with about another 100 employees yet to be hired to reach 1,100 by 2010. Bruce Brownlee, senior executive administrator of the TTC Michigan locations, says about 600 of the 1,007 Michigan employees are housed at the York Twp. location.

Brownlee says “a large percentage” of Toyota’s new hires are fresh out of school, with most coming from Michigan universities as well as other Midwest schools. The remaining employees have a work history with a variety of automotive companies, including the Detroit Three.

The new campus is a close copy of the Ann Arbor facility, where Toyota has developed numerous models, including the new Venza cross/utility vehicle going on sale in January.

However, the structures here were designed with a host of environmental components and systems, including reused and recycled building materials; local seeds and plants; a more efficient under-floor air system; water-less urinals and variable flush toilets; and a light-colored roof that reflects and reduces solar heat.

Despite having other tech centers in California, the two Michigan sites make the region Toyota’s “center for automotive research and development in North America,” TTC President Shigeki Terashi says in a statement.

While Lentz acknowledges America’s current harsh economic climate, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

“We’re in the middle of a storm right now,” he tells reporters. “I can’t predict when that storm is going to end. But I do know that when (it does), we’ll come out on the other side. The future of the industry is very strong.”

Toyota’s U.S. sales have been down or flat since summer 2007, with deliveries last month plunging 29.5% on a daily-rate basis, making the decline the auto maker’s largest since July 1987’s 32.5%, Ward’s data shows.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com