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Inland Empire emerges as automotive hub

With the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach ushering in the majority of finished consumer goods imported to the United States, it's not surprising that Asian carmakers like Toyota and Nissan have distribution hubs in the market.

But distribution is only a part of the automotive cluster that has formed in the Inland Empire city of Ontario, Calif., a submarket that is becoming a nexus of education and assembly for the industry.

Toyota operates a 500,000 sq. ft. parts distribution center in Ontario, which is about 35 miles from Los Angeles. The company picked the location primarily for port access, since most of its inventory is imported via the Pacific Ocean, according to Ed Huante, national manager of the company's North American Part Center California.

In addition to port proximity, Toyota was drawn to Ontario's access to major interstate highways, rail, and a large commercial airport. “We also have several North American suppliers that are, or were, located in Northern or Southern California,” says Huante.

“Clearly, Ontario made for a great location to consolidate and warehouse inventory from overseas and West Coast, North American suppliers,” adds Huante.

Last fall, Nissan North America opened its Ontario Training Center at 935 S. Milliken Ave. The school trains dealership technicians in Southern California, Arizona, Nevada and parts of Utah to service Nissan and Infiniti products.

And one of the latest automotive developments in the region relates to Atlanta-based Wheego Electric Cars, which operates an engineering center and final assembly plant in Ontario. Hi Performance Electric Vehicles, a company that has operated in Ontario for 20 years, manages the center.

In December 2010, Wheego announced its plan to complete final assembly of the Wheego LiFe, an electric automobile, at the Ontario center.

“Ontario has a very pro-business culture, which makes it easy to get things done, and that's important to us,” Wheego CEO Mike McQuary said in announcing the plan last year.

“While California's business climate is often challenging, Ontario has an excellent local talent pool, low-cost commercial real estate and great logistics.”

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