Toyota-Mazda plant caps Alabama auto sector’s successful year

Toyota-Mazda plant caps Alabama auto sector’s successful year
Mercedes produced its 3 millionth Alabama-made vehicle this week at its Tuscaloosa County plant. (Mercedes)

Toyota-Mazda’s plans to build a $1.6 billion, 4,000-job auto assembly plant in Huntsville form the latest chapter in the story of Alabama’s robust auto industry, which just wrapped up another successful year.

The past year saw major investments and innovative plans for new technologies as the state’s automakers continued to build vehicles and engines for customers around the world.

And the accomplishments continue in the new year. Earlier this week, the Tuscaloosa County Mercedes-Benz plant produced its 3 millionth vehicle. The diamond silver GLE 350 SUV was built for a customer in the U.S.

“We’re already starting off 2018 with an exciting milestone – a testament to the hard work and dedication of our team members,” said Jason Hoff, president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz U.S. International Inc.

“Last year was an exciting and successful time for MBUSI – the celebration of 20 years of production in Alabama and we got our first glimpse of what’s to come in the future with the announcement of an additional $1 billion investment in our plant.”

Hoff added, “This year – 2018 – will be equally rewarding as we devote our full attention to building the next generation of SUVs.”

Workers at Mercedes’ Tuscaloosa County plant celebrate the automaker’s 3 millionth Alabama-made vehicle this week. (Mercedes)

Warm welcome

Following Wednesday’s announcement by Toyota-Mazda, Mercedes – which kicked off the modern auto industry in Alabama – welcomed the newest member.

“We welcome the Toyota-Mazda plant – the newest addition to the automotive industry in the state of Alabama,” Hoff said.

“We applaud the people of the region and are pleased to see that so many other automakers recognize the same great qualities here that we did back in the mid-90s: a highly skilled and dedicated workforce, an amiable business climate and great Southern hospitality.”

Toyota and Mazda are participating in a joint venture to build the plant, which will produce the Toyota Corolla and a new Mazda crossover, with a capacity to build 300,000 vehicles annually. Production is expected to begin by 2021.

The Huntsville site is near Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama, which turned out nearly 700,000 engines last year, powering one-third of the Toyota vehicles built in the U.S. The plant built its 5 millionth engine in February and in September announced a $106 million investment to install a new 4-cylinder production line to produce advanced engines.

More milestones

Elsewhere in the state, the auto industry continued to power forward in 2017.

In Montgomery, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama produced 328,400 cars and SUVs during 2017, along with 620,159 engines.

And in Talladega County, Honda Manufacturing of Alabama built a record number of Pilot SUVs as part of a total output of 357,316 vehicles.

Workers there also redesigned another model in the Alabama lineup – the Odyssey minivan – which was the fourth new model redesign for the plant over the last three years, an unprecedented schedule for any Honda manufacturing facility in North America.

Customer response to the new Odyssey has been very encouraging, the automaker says. It is a finalist for the North American Utility of the Year Award, which will be presented next week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

That’s a familiar stage for Alabama-built Hondas. Last year, another Talladega County product, the Honda Ridgeline pickup, won Truck of the Year honors.

In another key milestone, the Honda plant in November celebrated production of the 1 millionth engine since starting up its new engine assembly facility three years earlier. And since the start of vehicle production in Alabama in 2001, Honda has built nearly 4.5 million vehicles and engines.

“This was yet another outstanding year for Alabama’s automotive industry, which continued to build great cars and engines for a worldwide market,” said Steve Sewell, executive vice president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama.

“It was especially exciting to see both new and existing companies make investments and announce projects that will position the state as an important location in the global auto industry for years to come.”

Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield speaks during an event to announce plans by Toyota and Mazda to build a $1.6 billion assembly plant in Huntsville. (Rob Culpepper / Made in Alabama)


Among the biggest projects was the $1 billion announcement by Mercedes, which will set up electric vehicle production and build a battery plant in Alabama, while also expanding its logistics activities with a new Global Logistics Center and a new after-sales North American parts hub.

In all, the new investment in the state is expected to create more than 600 jobs and upgrade a plant that the company already describes as one of the world’s “smartest” manufacturing facilities.

Other key announcements included an $85 million expansion for Honda, the first of a multiphase project to improve vehicle manufacturing flexibility, strengthen the logistic efficiency for future models and prepare for future technologies.

Beyond that, suppliers continue to build new plants and expand existing operations in Alabama, including BOCAR, which plans a $115 million plant in Huntsville that will create more than 300 jobs.

And there are other new names, too. In September, Indiana-based Autocar revealed plans for a $120 million, 746-job plant in Center Point and Birmingham that will produce heavy-duty cab-over-engine trucks.

“Alabama’s automotive manufacturers continued to make impressive strides in 2017, while also laying the groundwork for growth in production and technology in 2018 and beyond,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“Our workforce, well trained and committed to producing high-quality vehicles and parts, is the reason these companies are deepening their roots here, bringing even more new jobs and opportunity for communities across the state.

“We look forward to watching the same success story unfold for Toyota-Mazda.”

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.

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