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Triple Shift into Record Production

The three-shift production schedule at Hyundai’s Alabama plant is winning the race to meet expanding demand — beating output records year after year.

Cassandra Collins assembles a door on the line at Hyundai’s Montgomery plant.

Cassandra Collins assembles a door on the line at Hyundai’s Montgomery plant.

It is 3 p.m. at Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama (HMMA) in Montgomery and Ashley Frye, vice president of the production division, has just returned to his office. Much of the day, he says, was spent in meetings and pounding concrete throughout the facility to monitor the assembly of two of the car company’s best-selling sedans, the 2014 Elantra and the Sonata.

In 2012, Hyundai Alabama produced a company record of more than 361,300 vehicles. At year end, Frye says, they were on target to beat that number.

“We’ll end up this year right at 400,000 units,” says Frye, who oversees not only general assembly but also logistics, two onsite engine shops, a paint shop and maintenance. “We went to a three-shift production schedule in the fall of last year, and adding that additional number of work hours to the day allowed us to elevate our production targets.”

Sales of Hyundai vehicles, like the Sonata and Elantra, are managed by Hyundai Motor America, a subsidiary of the South Korean manufacturer Hyundai Motor Co. The cars are sold at more than 800 dealerships across the United States. On Dec. 3, Hyundai Motor America, headquartered in Costa Mesa, Calif., said sales for November 2013 were at 56,005 units, up 5 percent over the same period in 2012. In particular, the company sold 16,751 Elantra sedans, surpassing the sales numbers of November 2012, at 15,923. Sales of the mid-size Sonata for November 2013 were at 16,595, down slightly from the same time in 2012, at 17,660.

“We continue to see strong demand across our lineup, with consumer interest especially high for the 2014 model year updates we made to Sonata, Santa Fe and Tucson,” said then-Hyundai Motor America President and CEO John Krafcik. “While we finished November still short of 2014 model year inventory, our plants are literally working 24/7 to restock our dealers with these new models, including the refreshed 2014 Elantra and updated Veloster, which both arrive in showrooms this month.”

Krafcik has been succeeded by David Zuchowski, former vice president of sales. 

Cedric Moon assembles a Sonata at the Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama plant.

Back at the Montgomery plant, every step in Hyundai’s assembly process is audited on an ongoing basis for every shift, says Frye, to ensure that workers are able to perform their duties to Hyundai’s specifications. The goal, he says, is to get things right the first time, namely to run vehicles entirely through the assembly line without having to sideline them with a repair or finessing a fit. 

“Our target is to have shipping out of this plant the highest quality vehicle sold here in North America,” he says, “and so, with the uptime and the high quality, that allows units to go continuously through our system, straight out the door to deliver to our customer.”

The efficiency of the plant and product quality, he says, is helped by a network of more than 70 suppliers from across the country. About half of the suppliers are headquartered throughout Alabama.

“All of our suppliers and their ability to deliver their parts to us on an on-time basis, along with our logistics organization here, is such to where we are a very lean organization,” Frye says. “We don’t keep much in the way of inventory on our site. We depend on our suppliers to bring in material in a just-in-time basis. Everything fits together just like clockwork.”

The standard 2014 Sonata mid-size sedan has a suggested retail price of about $21,350. The Sonata has a 2.4-liter Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) engine that can deliver up to 190 horsepower and get up to 35 mpg on the highway. The car also comes with 16-inch alloy wheels. Driver options include such features as Blind Spot Detection and Driver Selectable Steering Mode, which lets drivers choose between normal, comfort or sport setting for their steering.

The standard 2014 Elantra has a suggested retail price of about $17,200. The car can generate 145 horsepower and achieve up to 38 mpg on the highway. The Elantra comes with alloy wheels, and drivers can chose options like Sirius XM satellite radio and heated exterior mirrors.

Among the Elantra’s safety features are six airbags and a Vehicle Stability Management System. The 2014 Elantra recently got a Five-Star Overall Safety Rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and was named as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick for 2014.

Both the Elantra and the Sonata are produced at the Montgomery assembly plant that sits on 1,744 acres and employs more than 3,000 workers.

Hyundai broke ground for the 3.2 million-square-foot facility in 2002 — the Korean company’s first automobile assembly plant in the United States. Frye joined HMMA in 2003 as a member of the plant’s early leadership team. The facility opened in 2005 and workers began production of the 2006 Sonata. Production of the Elantra compact sedan began about four years later in November 2010. HMMA also produced the Santa Fe SUV from 2006 until 2010.

Speculation over the growth of Hyundai in the state was fueled last August when an article in Business Korea reported that Alabama was in competition with Georgia for another Hyundai plant and that Gov. Robert Bentley was planning a trip to Korea in October to meet with Hyundai officials. Bentley’s office later said the October trip was only for cultural exchange purposes and not industrial development.

In the meantime, production at the Hyundai plant in Montgomery continues. Frye, who one could describe as part manager, part coach, part cheerleader, says he often talks to his staffers about values such as teamwork, striving for excellence and setting goals for the coming year.

“Across the face of the paint plant here,” he says, “we have a sign and it says, ‘Be the World’s Best Plant,’ and that’s a message that I want to project out to the team members,” Frye says. “We put out that message, that not only can we do it, but we will do it. There is a big difference in those words. We will be successful.

“As we’re wrapping up production at the end of this year,” he says, “we’ve got to keep the focus through the remaining few days of the year. Everything that we have accomplished thus far in the way of success is serving as a foundation for what we’re going to do as we enter 2014.”

Gail Allyn Short is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Birmingham.

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