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Toyota to build Lexus in Kentucky, add 750 jobs

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From AP and staff reports

Toyota will start building the Lexus ES 350 at a factory in Georgetown, Ky., starting in 2015, producing a luxury brand vehicle for the first time in the United States.

The Japanese car company said Friday that the Georgetown plant will build about 50,000 of the flagship sedans each year, creating 750 new jobs.

The Georgetown plant currently assembles the Camry, Avalon and Venza models as well as their hybrid counterparts. The plant already employs about 6,600 people.

Sandy Maynard, spokeswoman for Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia, said the impact of the announcement on the Putnam County plant is unknown at this time.

TMMWV has been told that it could eventually produce transmissions for the ES 350, "however, there are not plans at this time," she said. "The plan right now is for them to be sourced from Japan."

Toyota has not commented on whether Buffalo could supply engines for the ES 350, she said.

Toyota said it will invest $360 million to build the Lexus assembly line, boosting Georgetown's annual vehicle production to 550,000 a year. The company made the announcement at simultaneous news conferences Friday in New York and Georgetown.

"It is fitting that the first country to build the ES outside of Japan is the United States," Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda, the company's top executive, said in New York. "This is the home for Lexus. It was where the brand was founded and it is still the biggest market for the luxury brand."

Toyota started the Lexus luxury brand in 1990 and has since sold nearly 1.2 million ES sedans in the U.S., Toyoda said.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said Toyota would invest a total of $531 million in the Georgetown plant, but the company gave no details of how the remaining $171 million would be spent. A top auto industry analyst said he would be surprised if the company didn't move more production to the factory.

The Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority approved $146.5 million in state tax incentives on Wednesday to help with the cost of the expansion.

Jim Lentz, Toyota's North American CEO, said the investment is in addition to previously announced plans to sink $2 billion into factories in Mississippi, Indiana, West Virginia and in Canada during the past 17 months, creating more than 4,000 jobs.