Auto Manufacturing’s Southern Twang
Think steel, think Pittsburgh. Think software, think Silicon Valley. Think car manufacturing, think Detroit, or at the very least, the Midwest, right?
As with many things, it is always good to challenge past assumptions. And where major automotive manufacturing projects are taking place, it’s the South that is rising rapidly.
- LocationHuntsville, AL
- Square Footage690,016 s.f.
- Operational13 months
Massive joint-venture Mazda Toyota assembly plant makes Alabama a major player.
With the Huntsville, Alabama groundbreaking of the $1.6 billion assembly plant campus for the joint venture of Mazda and Toyota taking place last November, Alabama has vaulted to fifth in the United States in car production, a status that will certainly climb when production begins from the new project in 2021.
Automotive Manufacturing – “Project New World”
Dubbed “Project New World” in development, the plant will create more than 4,000 jobs and is designed to produce Toyota Corollas and an as-yet-unannounced Mazda crossover. Originally, the joint venture considered more than 100 sites in 25 states. “Huntsville was ultimately selected because they were ready, willing and able. The site shows years of thoughtful preparation, and the city has ample advanced manufacturing expertise,” said the site selection team.
The massive 2,400-acre project, however, didn’t actually start out with that scale. At first, its secret code name was “Project Mitt,” and it involved only Toyota. The site-selection team began examining sites spanning 500 to 1,000 acres, but the game changed when Mazda joined as a partner.
“That scope immediately became much larger. We covered a lot of ground in terms of states that could qualify, although once Mitt became ‘Project New World,’ several states were eliminated due to the added scope and size,” a team director says. And massive it is. Plans call for the MazdaToyota complex in Huntsville to span 6 million square feet. The campus will include a press shop, welding shop, paint shop, general assembly facility, test track, ancillary support building and an administration building with offices, locker rooms and a cafeteria.
The facility is located just miles away from a Toyota engine plant that employs 1,400 people and produces more than 700,000 engines annually. The automaker has invested nearly $1 billion in the Huntsville engine plant, after repeated expansions.
The Mazda Toyota facility will become Alabama’s fourth auto assembly plant to open since 1997. Production capacity is projected at 300,000 vehicles per year. Such steady growth has made Alabama the nation’s fifth largest auto-producing state, with more than 1 million vehicles built each year.
“The Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA facility will power a new phase of growth for Alabama’s auto industry by acting as a magnet for substantial new investment and job-creation,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. Toyota had originally planned to build a new Corolla plant in Mexico, but after the joint venture plans were announced in August, Toyota changed course and decided to build Tacoma pickups at the plant in Mexico and the new Corolla at the new U.S. plant. As might be expected, Toyota came under fire from high places for planning to build Corollas for the U.S. market in Mexico.
To avoid a potential political backlash and big border taxes, Toyota decided to move ahead with plans to build trucks at the Mexico plant and Corollas in Huntsville. This is not Toyota’s first venture in the South. The company had been making Corollas in the U.S. at a plant in Blue Springs, Mississippi, and always planned to keep making vehicles there. By building the new Corolla plant in Huntsville, it will have easier access to selected suppliers of the Blue Springs plant a few hours away.
With 4,000 jobs to fill, the automakers say they are committed to investing in developing the future workforce in collaboration with local educators and economic development partners. The donations include $500,000 to the Huntsville Madison Chamber Foundation to launch a new career exploration online platform that will help highlight careers in manufacturing to students, building skills and connecting job seekers to manufacturing opportunities. They also gave $250,000 to be split between six school districts in Madison, Limestone and Morgan counties to advance STEM or career technical programs that align with advanced manufacturing.
In addition to the existing Toyota engine plant, Alabama is also home to plants for Hyundai, Honda and Mercedes-Benz. This has also attracted more than 200 Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers to locate plants in the state. Vehicles have become Alabama’s No. 1 export, with shipments to around 90 nations around the world every year. In 2018, exports of Alabama-made vehicles and parts totaled $7.5 billion, led by shipments to Canada, China and Germany. And with the major new Mazda Toyota assembly campus, and investments in continuing education and training, expect Alabama to shine bright in auto manufacturing for years to come.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a contributing author and not necessarily Gray.