North Alabama native brings touch of Huntsville history to Mazda Toyota plant

North Alabama native brings touch of Huntsville history to Mazda Toyota plant
As general manager, assembly for Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A., Lance Fulks is working to move the plant through start-up so it can begin producing automobiles in 2021. (MTMUS)

When it came to naming the two assembly lines at the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A. plant (MTMUS) under construction in Huntsville, the job fell to a lifelong North Alabama resident and University of Alabama in Huntsville grad who had been hired this year as the plant’s general manager, assembly.

Lance Fulks faces many challenges getting the $1.6 billion factory, the latest major addition to Alabama’s growing auto sector, through start-up mode and ready to start auto production in 2021. He was prepared for the job by 20 years of experience in manufacturing and a degree in industrial and systems engineering. Still, as busy as he was with other duties, he took the seemingly simple task of naming the assembly lines seriously.

He just wasn’t sure MTMUS management would take the idea he came up with seriously, he said with a chuckle. But his solution helps define the company’s place in Huntsville’s future by honoring the most important part of the city’s history.

Lance Fulks, center, talks with team members at Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A. Fulks, a North Alabama native and UAH grad, is general manager, assembly at MTMUS. (MTMUS)

“When MTMUS’ management asked me to help come up with names for our two lines, I didn’t know how to start,” Fulks said. “I froze! This task was something I ordinarily wouldn’t do; however, it provided me with an opportunity to get creative, especially being from North Alabama.”

After contemplating the colors of the Alabama state flag and countless other ideas, Fulks thought about the Rocket City’s rich heritage as the birthplace of our nation’s space program.

“Growing up near Huntsville as a child, we took regular school field trips to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center to learn about the city’s significance in the space program. If you’re from the region, everyone has a connection or story about the space program, whether it’s a relative, neighbor or a friend, so the solution was an obvious one.”

Fulks added, “when I presented the idea of naming our two lines Apollo and Discovery, in a nod to Rocket City, our team loved it. As we ramp up hiring and begin preparations to assemble world-class vehicles in Huntsville in 2021, I believe naming these lines after two iconic space programs serves as added motivation for all MTMUS team members.”

Construction of MTMUS remains on schedule. Up to 4,000 jobs will be created and hiring is under way. In August 2017, Toyota and Mazda announced a collaboration to establish MTMUS, a joint venture that will assemble up to 300,000 vehicles annually. This summer, more than 2,500 workers are on-site during peak construction, the majority from Alabama.

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