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New Elantra Maintains Hyundai Momentum

Hyundai’s Montgomery plant ramps up 2016 production with a redesigned 2017 Elantra.

The latest Elantra features alloy wheels, solar control glass and projector headlights with daytime running lights.

The latest Elantra features alloy wheels, solar control glass and projector headlights with daytime running lights.

In 2015, a decade after workers at Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama (HMMA) in Montgomery assembled their first vehicle, they celebrated the completion of their 3 millionth automobile.

Their production numbers, provided by HMMA, included 1,863,700 Sonata sedans and 719,500 Elantra sedans, as well as 416,800 Santa Fe Crossover Utility Vehicles that were completed before HMMA moved production of the Santa Fe to the Kia Motors Manufacturing plant in Georgia, five years ago.

In early January, Hyundai announced plans to return some Santa Fe production to Montgomery, to help meet growing demand. 

Today, HMMA, whose parent company is the Korea-based Hyundai Motor Co. (HMC), is a sprawling 3.2 million-square-foot, $1.8 billion facility. It has more than 3,700 full- and part-time workers, and with the help of robotics and other advanced manufacturing techniques, produces vehicles as well as 194 horsepower Theta Two Gasoline Direct Injection 4-cylinder and 148 horsepower Nu 4-cylinder engines. 

“The first 10 years of production have been a huge learning experience for our team members from Montgomery and the River Region,” says Chris Susock, vice president of production for HMMA “They have shown an amazing work ethic and continued to demonstrate the importance of teamwork.”

HMMA operates three eight-hour shifts five days a week and on one Saturday a month, says Susock. The plant ships its products throughout North America, including Canada and Puerto Rico. 

According to HMMA figures, in 2015, the Montgomery plant produced 384,519 vehicles, including 212,275 Sonatas and 172,244 Elantra sedans.

Last fall, Hyundai Motor America announced that it had posted its best November ever, with 60,007 vehicles sold, up 12 percent compared to November 2014. Sales of the compact Elantra were up 26 percent from 14,002 in November 2014 to 17,634 last November. 

“With the combination of a strong economy, lower gas prices and improving crossover inventory, Hyundai experienced a record November,” said Derrick Hatami, vice president of national sales for Hyundai Motor America in a press statement. “In addition to our Tucson nearly doubling its sales over November 2014, a number of our products experienced double digit sales gains.”

On the other hand, sales of the Sonata slipped slightly from 18,515 in November 2014 to 16,732 during the same month in 2015. Susock says current gas prices are driving small truck and SUV sales and have put pressure on midsize sedan sales in 2015. 

But as Elantra sales climb, Susock says HMMA is ramping up production of a redesigned 2017 version of the vehicle.

“The model should keep the Elantra sales momentum going in 2016,” he says.

HMMA first announced that it would produce the 2011 Elantra in 2010.  That model made its debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November 2010. 

The latest version of the Elantra, which showed recently at the 2017 Los Angeles Auto Show, features a 4-cylinder engine, alloy wheels, solar control glass and projector headlights with daytime running lights. The car’s interior includes a 6-way adjustable driver’s seat, and buyers can opt for a rearview camera, a Bluetooth hands-free phone and Android Auto.

HMMA’s production and its impact on Alabama’s economy was the focus of a recent economic impact study conducted by M. Keivan Deravi, Ph.D., dean of the College of Public Policy and Justice and professor of economics at Auburn University at Montgomery. According to the study, HMMA’s total impact on the state’s economy was $4.82 billion in 2014. The report also found that HMMA’s more than 40 Tier 1 and 2 suppliers employed 8,900 people, and had an annual payroll of $225.5 million that year.

HMMA has taken steps to ensure that the company has the skilled workers it will need in the future. In 2014, HMMA announced a partnership with H. Councill Trenholm State Technical College in Montgomery to create a 13-week maintenance intern program. 

The program provides students with classroom instruction and hands-on training at the HMMA plant three days a week. Students who graduate from the program could make up to $100,000 annually once they gain experience in the automotive manufacturing maintenance field, Susock says.

“There’s a limited supply of trained, multi-skilled maintenance employees in Alabama,” says Susock. “Students graduating from high school are looking to other career fields. Trenholm and the Montgomery Public School system are trying to encourage students to consider a career in the technical trades.” 

He says Hyundai has already hired two of the interns who participated in the program. “We hope to hire more in the future.” 

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

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