By Dan Shaw, Evansville Courier & Press

Several months after a Toyota supplier had halted its operation in Owensboro, it has reopened its doors.

Dana Holding Corp. is employing about 145 workers at its Owensboro plant, which was shut down for about three months in response to Toyota's decision to suspend the production of vehicles made at its plant in Princeton, Ind. The Dana workers will resume making frames for the Sequoia sport utility vehicle Monday, the same day Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana is scheduled to begin making that vehicle again.

In the face of high gas prices and falling demand for some of its products, Toyota ceased making the Tundra pickup truck and the Sequoia in August. The decision immediately affected Dana's plant in Owensboro, which churned out frames for both vehicles.

Earlier in the year, the Dana plant had employed more than 300 workers. The first round of layoffs came in June. About 100 workers on the plant's second shift were let go after Toyota had begun to slow its production at the Princeton plant.

When Toyota announced work on both vehicles would be suspended for three months, Dana laid off the remaining 230 workers at the Owensboro plant.

Chuck Hartlage, a Dana spokesman, said the number of people rehired will largely depend on Toyota's production rates in coming months. Hurting Dana is Toyota's decision to concentrate the Tundra line at its plant in San Antonio, Texas.

Yet an opportunity for more work may come from the arrival of the Highlander SUV, which Toyota plans to begin building in Princeton in fall 2009, Hartlage said.

"We would love to produce additional products for either Toyota or another manufacturer," Hartlage said.

The return to Sequoia production comes at a time of troubling reports from Toyota. The company recently said its U.S. sales in October had fallen 26 percent below where they were in the same month a year ago. On Tuesday, the company lowered its U.S. sales forecast to a range of between 2.2 million and 2.3 million vehicles. It had earlier predicted sales of 2.44 million vehicles this year.

Toyota, which laid off no Princeton employees during the three months of the suspension, has said its rate of production will depend entirely on how many are being bought by customers. When it resumes making the vehicles, the work will be divided between two shifts.

But customer demand isn't likely to warrant having workers spend all of the time in production. Part of their days, for a while at least, will still be set aside for training and similar matters.

The return to work at Dana has been the latest good news to come from suppliers of the Toyota plant. Last week, Vuteq USA, an assembler of interior parts for automobiles, said it will add 50 employees to its work force of about 300. And Toyota Boshoku Corp., a maker of seats, plans to build a factory in Princeton, bringing 300 jobs.

But Toyota's production halt has not left all companies unaffected. Tenneco Inc., which had built exhaust systems used on Tundras, announced last week that it would close its Evansville plant. And Transfreight, which trucks supplies to the Princeton plant, laid off about 30 workers in September.

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