LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – Gov. Matt Bevin said Kentucky will be going full throttle to convince Japanese automakers Toyota and Mazda that the Bluegrass state is the ideal location for a $1.6 billion factory they plan to build in the United States.

The automakers announced the joint venture on Friday, saying they hadn’t settled on a location for the plant that will produce Toyota Corolla cars and new cross-over models for Mazda.

“We are going to be on that like white on rice,” Bevin said while delivering the opening address at the Kentucky Automotive Industry Association’s annual conference in Lexington.

Spokespeople for Toyota and Mazda said by e-mail that the process for choosing a site is in the early stages and they are open to interest from various states.

Bevin even mentioned a vacant, 1,500-acre site south of Louisville International Airport that he said would be perfect for the factory.

Terry Gill, Bevin’s top economic development official, said in an interview that the governor was referring to a state-owned greenfield site called Glendale off Interstate 65 in the Elizabethtown area.

Toyota already makes the Camry and Avalon models at its Georgetown, Ky. plant, which Gill said is the company’s largest factory in the U.S.

In a brief interview after his speech, Bevin said he has a “personal relationship” with Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda.

He declined to describe the state’s steps so far in competing for the new plant, which could employ 4,000 people.

But Bevin said he will impress on Toyota and Mazda executives that no state is “better positioned” for the plant than Kentucky with its central geography and access to existing Toyota suppliers.

He also said he doesn’t mind being open about the state’s pursuit of the plant, which is not surprising given Kentucky’s position as the third-largest state for automotive production.

“It doesn’t bother me to tell people who are going full at it, because I suspect other credible players will be going full at it. And I intend to beat them,” Bevin said.

But Toyota also has factory in Mississippi, which “looks to be the frontrunner” state for the Toyota-Mazda plant, Bloomberg News said in a recent story.

The news agency cited the fact that the Mississippi plant already makes the Corolla model.

One expert who spoke at the Kentucky Automotive Industry Association conference Monday agreed that Mississippi is the most likely location for the plant.

“I would love to say the story is Kentucky but I don’t know,” said Joseph McCabe, of Auto Forecast Solutions.

Even if the plant goes to Mississippi, it will almost certainly bring new business to Kentucky-based supplier plants, McCabe told the conference.

Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822, cotts@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook.

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