By Joshua H. Silavent - Staff Writer
September 11, 2012 - When it comes to overseeing 470 employees, managing a $270 million investment and ensuring the quality of some of the world’s most popular cars and trucks, Mike Bafan doesn’t rest easy.
“Here, we don’t think there is a best way to do something,” the president of Toyota Auto Body of California (TABC), located in North Long Beach, recently told the Business Journal. “We always think there is a better way to do it.”
It’s that kind of mantra that has earned Toyota a reputation for quality and safety. And, in many ways, TABC is responsible for this good standing.
What is now TABC started out in 1972 as Atlas Fabricators, a contracted manufacturing facility for Toyota truck beds.
At that time, Toyota was importing readymade trucks to the United States, but doing so meant being slapped with a hefty 25 percent tax. That liability fell to 2.5 percent if the truck beds were assembled stateside.
So two years later – with demand and sales rising – Toyota purchased the small plant and turned it into the company’s first manufacturing investment in North America, building stamped parts, catalytic systems and steering columns, among other things, primarily for Tacoma and Corolla models.
TABC now occupies nearly 30 acres and 570,000 square feet of building space. It has the best safety record of any Toyota plant in North America for three years running. And its employees come from all walks of life, with 39 different nationalities represented and 29 different languages spoken among team members.
But recent challenges have put Bafan and TABC to the test.
The economic free fall of 2008 shook the automobile industry to its core. Bailouts of major American manufacturers – including General Motors, where Bafan worked for 22 years prior to joining Toyota – ensued, bringing a measure of stability to the market. Though Toyota weathered the recession better than most of its competitors, it has felt the strain of a slow global recovery.
Then came the controversy over the Prius. Although the allegations about unintended acceleration problems in the hybrid vehicles were proved to be false, the Toyota brand took a hit to its image.
“We know, and we knew it then, that there was no merit to it,” Bafan said of the controversy. “But it was a very difficult proposition for us when people were talking about our safety.”
TABC was forced to shutter operations for about a week as the media swarmed to the story and recalls were issued.
“We basically brought everything to a halt,” Bafan said. “It was a hard pill to swallow for us.”
As if that weren’t enough, in 2011 a massive earthquake off the coast of Japan sent a tsunami crashing into the island nation, cutting off key supply lines and making it difficult for TABC to import certain materials and parts.
But Bafan and his team didn’t just sit around and wait for things to get better. He used the time to re-train employees and was able to stave off layoffs even as production slowed.
Now, it seems, things are moving in a positive direction. TABC celebrated its 40th anniversary in last month. Toyota sales are up and new models are rolling off the assembly line with frequency.
“The prospects are good,” Bafan said. “This is one of our most exciting years. We have kept pace with any uptick in the economy.”
TABC also is helping lead Toyota’s commitment to environmental responsibility. For example, the Long Beach plant tests, inspects and repackages end-of-life hybrid vehicle batteries. TABC also is actively reducing waste and energy consumption at its facility.
Bafan attributes TABC’s long-term success, in part, to the City of Long Beach itself.
“We are very happy that we have a very good, solid relationship with the city and state,” Bafan said.
And it is these relationships that explain TABC’s commitment to the local community. For example, every executive is required to serve on the board of directors of at least one nonprofit. Employees have volunteered thousands of hours to support the Special Olympics of Southern California. And tens of thousands of dollars in donations and vehicles have been made to support the California Conference for Equality and Justice, California State University, Long Beach and the Boys & Girls Club of Long Beach, among others.
“On a personal front, these are very important to me,” Bafan said of TABC’s charity work.
Even when boiled down to brass “tax,” Bafan knows why TABC is an important local business.
“We are obviously good citizens,” he said. “We pay our taxes and keep people employed.”
Still, the heartbeat of TABC can be heard when Bafan talks about safety. It is priority No. 1, evident in the green painted lines that direct pedestrian traffic around the plant, in the required use of helmets, goggles and other protection, and even reflected in engravings at the front entrance that spell out employees’ commitment to safety. The result of this emphasis can be seen in the product itself, Bafan said.
“We spend a lot of time making sure our customers are safe,” he added.
The Latest News
- Commercial Real Estate Council Annual Luncheon June 6
- Post Office Assures Service Standards At Long Beach Mail Processing Facility Will Remain High
- Airport Reps: City College Did Not Reach Out Prior To Cutting Aviation Program
- Governor May Use Carbon Auction Monies As Loan To General Fund
- Long Beach Fire Department To Move Forward With Training For ‘Rapid Medic Deployment’ Pilot Program
- Long Beach Councilmembers Vote To Sue Over Railway Project
- Community Meeting May 22 For Draft Mobility Element
- Long Beach Medical Marijuana Advocates Continue Effort To Repeal City Ban Despite State High Court Ruling
- Hats Off To Chris Lytle And The Port Staff