Alabama’s auto industry is on a hot streak, with record production numbers, rising investment, expanded hiring, and redesigned models rolling off the assembly lines.
Last year alone, the auto industry added around 6,500 jobs and $3 billion in new investment in the state, according to a preliminary analysis of data in the Alabama Department of Commerce’s 2015 New and Expanding Industry Report.
“We have an impressive story to tell about auto manufacturing in Alabama,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “Less than 20 years ago, workers here produced zero vehicles, and now they’re building more than 1 million a year. And the automakers’ ongoing expansion plans point to even better days ahead.”
To help tell that story, Commerce has rolled out a new tool that will be used in recruiting more automotive companies to the state. A fast-paced video outlines the success of the Alabama auto industry overall, along with milestones of the individual companies that are a part of it.
The video is making its debut on Made In Alabama.
Mercedes-Benz launched the modern auto industry in Alabama in 1997, when it produced the first M-Class SUV at its Tuscaloosa County plant.
Honda and Hyundai followed, setting up their own auto assembly operations in the state, along with Toyota and its engine plant. Hundreds of supplier plants have landed here, too, as the industry has transformed lives and communities across the state.
For the first time last year, the combined output of Mercedes, Honda and Hyundai surpassed 1 million vehicles, solidifying Alabama’s position as the No. 5 auto-producing state.
All of Alabama’s automakers are currently in a busy season. Together, the state’s auto workers will build 11 different vehicle models on state assembly lines this year.
At Mercedes, there’s a $1.3 billion, 300-job expansion under way. The work is setting the stage for the next generation of luxury SUVs the company will produce in Vance. It follows a banner year for the Alabama factory, which in 2015 launched a new addition to its lineup, the GLE Coupé.
The expansion includes a new body shop and an addition to the SUV assembly shop, as well as other upgrades.
The body shop should be fully enclosed by November or December; then equipment installation will begin in late 2016 and last through 2017, said Felyicia Jerald, a spokeswoman for Mercedes’ Alabama operations.
A construction site-wide safety and topping out event was held last month to congratulate everyone for a great effort during the past six months, she said. It was hosted by the automaker and the joint venture team of BL Harbert International and Gray Construction, and more than 300 people attended.
“With six more months left until completion, we hope to continue this level of excellence and finish as strong as we began,” Jerald said.
Honda, meanwhile, just started mass production of its redesigned 2017 Ridgeline pickup in Talladega County. The second-generation Ridgeline adopts a more traditional profile than its predecessor, and Honda’s plan is to take a bigger bite out of the sizzling U.S. light truck market.
Next month, the Santa Fe Sport SUV will join the lineup at Hyundai’s Montgomery factory. The company produced the sport utility in Alabama from 2005 to 2010 and is spending $52 million to relaunch it here.
And Toyota, which produces four-cylinder, V-6 and V-8 engines in Huntsville, celebrated the completion of its 4 millionth engine last year. The Alabama plant is one of the automaker’s largest engine facilities worldwide and the only one to build all three engines under one roof.
The success of Alabama’s auto industry is making a global impression, too.
The value of state vehicle exports topped $7 billion last year, a new record, while overseas shipments of Alabama-made motor auto parts reached $1.2 billion. That has propelled Alabama to the No. 3 spot among auto-exporting states.