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Hyundai manufacturing plant in Alabama sets records as activity hums around clock

MONTGOMERY, Alabama – The Hyundai manufacturing plant in Alabama, already one of the U.S. auto industry’s most productive, is set to power output to record levels in 2013 after adding a third shift at the $1.7 billion facility.

The third production shift, initiated last September, provided an immediate capacity boost at a plant that Automobile Magazine named the nation’s third most productive  in 2011, when it turned out 342,162 vehicles. (Honda’s Alabama plant also was on the list, at No. 14)

At the Hyundai manufacturing plant, the third shift added about 20,000 Sonata and Elantra vehicles to the 2012 production tally of 361,348, a record year  for the facility, spokesman Robert Burns said. He said the 2013 plan calls for 388,000 Hyundai vehicles to be manufactured in Montgomery.

The automaker’s Alabama plant has produced more than 2 million vehicles since the first dealer-ready model rolled down the line in 2005.

The third production shift keeps the Montgomery plant running 24 hours a day, five days a week.  To man that third shift, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama hired 877 new associates, pushing the total workforce at the facility to 3,100 full-time and 400 temporary employees.

Before the decision to add the third shift, Hyundai workers had been turning in 50-hour work weeks, with an additional 10 hours on top of that one week per month, Burns said.  Still, it was tough to keep up with demand for the hot-selling Sonata sedans and Elantra compacts produced there. Projections showed that demand was not diminishing for the vehicles. (J.D. Power & Associates ranked the 2103 Sonata as the most dependable  mid-size car.)

More production was needed to make sure Hyundai dealers could get all the Montgomery-made vehicles they wanted. Hyundai’s Alabama team was up to the challenge of starting the third shift. “We felt like it was the best thing to do in the long term,” Burns said.

The decision to start a third shift at the plant meant adding 877 new jobs, then getting the new hires trained so they could assemble the in-demand, high-quality automobiles. The company received more than 22,000 applications, and state training agency AIDT helped with the pre-employment screening with a skills assessment process.

The 3.2 million-square-foot Hyundai manufacturing plant also produces about 600,000 engines a year, more than enough for its own needs, with the remainder sent to the Kia plant in West Point, Ga., just 100 miles away. Kia is an affiliate of Hyundai, and the Georgia plant produces the Hyundai Santa Fe, a SUV formerly assembled at the Montgomery plant. The two plants also share a parts supplier network that includes around 50 companies in Alabama alone, according to the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama.

The Hyundai manufacturing plant and its supplier network have had a massive impact on the Montgomery area economy, according to Auburn University Montgomery economist Keivan Deravi, who calculated that impact at $3.8 billion in 2010, before recent employment and capacity expansions.

Most of Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama’s vehicles are sold in the United States and Canada, though a small number are shipped to Puerto Rico and Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific Ocean. Products from the Alabama plant have helped Hyundai set new U.S. sales records.

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