Southern Auto Corridor - Fall 2023

Mercedes-Benz to expand again in Alabama and at its van plant in South Carolina

Mercedes-Benz has applied for tax breaks for potential projects at two U.S. plants, including its Tuscaloosa County facility and its electric delivery van and medium-sized electric luxury transporter plant in South Carolina. Both expansions include new all-electric models. In Alabama, that would be the GLC SUV, which is currently only available with a combustion engine.

In 2022, Mercedes began electric vehicle production in Vance, Ala., capping five years of activity and more than $1 billion in investments, which also added an electric battery factory in Bibb County and 1,000 more employees. The German automaker is applying for incentives available under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which has sparked billions in clean energy projects throughout the South.

Hyundai announces new wage hike

South Korea-based Hyundai, which is investing nearly $13 billion to build vehicle and battery plants in Georgia, announced it would raise wages by 25 percent in the next four years. The increased pay will affect workers at the Hyundai plant in Montgomery, Ala., to the Savannah area plant, but not the Kia plant in West Georgia.


Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama (HMMA) to invest $190 million to upgrade in Montgomery

The automaker plans to retool and upgrade its manufacturing facility for the fifth-generation Santa Fe.


The Hyundai deal is one of 32 major projects under construction in the Savannah area, according to private equity firm JLL Partners.Hyundai’s Savannah area Metaplant: The Southern Automotive Corridor’s signature win to date?

For decades, the rumors that Volvo and Audi would build full assembly plants in the Southern Automotive Corridor would surface, then go away, then surface again. One rumor ended when Volvo announced it would build its first vehicle plant in the Western Hemisphere in 2015 near Charleston, S.C., in Berkeley County.

Who placed second in Volvo’s site search? Why, none other than a site near Savannah in Bryan County, Ga. Needless to say, the folks in Savannah felt that they had won the Volvo deal and were seriously bummed when they learned their site earned the bridesmaid status.

Seven years later, Hyundai showed up and announced the largest automotive project in the South’s history, a nearly $8 billion battery and assembly facility that will eventually house over 8,000 workers. Not a bad consolation prize, huh? And as many as 8,000 more could work near the Savannah region when production ramps up in 2025.

Hyundai broke ground on the massive plant near Savannah in October 2022. The goal of the Korean automaker and its battery partner LG Energy is to begin production in early 2025 in order to begin capitalizing on new federal tax credits for EVs manufactured in the U.S. However, Hyundai officials have stated that production could begin as early as October 2024.

The complex is enormous, encompassing 3,000 acres. Hyundai and LG Energy’s manufacturing process will be a blend of artificial intelligence, robotics and human labor for a “smart factory,” putting the meta into “Metaplant.” Suppliers to Hyundai so far have made commitments for over 6,000 jobs and an additional several billion dollars in new investments.

According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “The facility will feature a glass-encased conveyor belt ‘bridge’ to transport vehicles from the factory’s paint shop over to final assembly. Jumbo Park, the plant’s head of engineering, said the elevated and lit passage will be visible from Interstate 16.

“One of the campus’ parking lots will feature a solar-panel canopy, which Park said will provide 5 percent of the factory’s electricity. The rest will be obtained through power purchase agreements, with the goal of sourcing 100 percent of the facility’s electricity from renewable sources.

“Visitors to the plant will be able to explore a greenspace at the front of the facility abutting the interstate, which officials said will be larger than Savannah’s iconic Forsyth Park, which spans more than 30 acres. The goal, Park said, is to ‘connect the community with the people who work in the plant.’ ”

For employees, on-site amenities will include restaurants, stores, a fitness center and health clinics, according to Hyundai officials.

Hyundai has not announced which models it will assemble at the Georgia plant. However, officials have said they will make electric models from the company’s three brands. Those would be Kia, Hyundai and the luxury line, Genesis. First year output is expected to be 300,000 EVs.

Spec industrial sector continues to slow in response to high borrowing rates. . .but not in Savannah

In the fall, SB&D named Georgia “State of the Year” for the second straight year. The Peach State has certainly earned it with the capture of huge projects like Hyundai’s Metaplant near Savannah. The massive $7.6 billion vehicle and battery plant is well underway with about 2,000 people working to build the facility each week. 

The Hyundai deal is one of 32 major projects under construction in the Savannah area, according to private equity firm JLL Partners. Flint Development is starting construction on 2 million square feet of spec industrial space in Midway, a town about 30 miles outside the port and near Hyundai’s Metaplant. 

Industrial property startup in U.S. states declined 61 percent nationally year-over-year during 2023, mainly stemming from higher interest rates and moderating demand. However, in the Savannah region, developers predict they will add around 24 million square feet of industrial space in 2024, more than doubling what they built in 2022.

Port of Brunswick aims to become largest vehicle export/import port

In October, Georgia Ports Authority CEO Griff Lynch outlined the growth schedule for the Port of Brunswick as it expands to surpass the Port of Baltimore as the nation’s largest port for roll-on, roll-off cargo. The Georgia port is adding a fourth ship berth at Brunswick’s main terminal and is deepening and widening the harbor.  “We will be the No. 1 port when we stand before you at this event in 2026,” Lynch told members of the Brunswick Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce at the Jekyll Island Convention Center.

Rivian’s future manufacturing campus on 1,800 acres near Rutledge, Ga., will feature planned green spaces filled with native plants. Over 50 percent of the site’s acreage will remain unpaved.Rivian confirms 2024 Georgia factory groundbreaking

Speaking at the company’s new showroom at Ponce City Market in Atlanta, Rivian announced plans to break ground on its $5 billion factory near Rutledge, Ga., next year on an 1,800-acre site. The factory will produce the R2 crossover and is expected to employ 7,500 workers.

Rivian launches new apprenticeship program in Georgia

Electric vehicle maker Rivian is launching a new apprenticeship program to train staff to work at the massive new factory it is building near Rutledge, an hour east of Atlanta. The program will put workers through two years of training — six months at Georgia community colleges, and working at Rivian’s existing plant in Normal, Ill. Participants will also be paid as maintenance technicians by Rivian while in the program, and once they have graduated, they will relocate to Georgia to work at the company’s forthcoming EV factory. The company expects to hire 7,500 once production ramps up. Tuition will be paid by Georgia’s HOPE career grants program.

Another supplier, this one a subsidiary of Toyota, breaks ground in Georgia

Toyota Industries Electric Systems North America (TIESNA), a maker of air-conditioning compressors and vehicle electronics, is making a $69 million investment in Pendergrass, Ga. The project will create 250 jobs.

SK Battery America to furlough workers at Jackson County, Ga., plant

SK Battery is furloughing many of the workers at its massive plant in Jackson County. The furloughs are part of an effort to cut production because of sagging electric vehicle sales. The move is temporary and will not shut down the plant. 

Daechang Seat Corp. announces $72.5 million manufacturing facility near Hyundai’s Metaplant near Savannah

The company makes seat frames, and the new facility will employ 500-plus people at the Savannah Chatham Manufacturing Center, an industrial park along I-16.

Hwashin to build Georgia plant to supply Hyundai

Korean auto parts and frame supplier is investing $176 million into a new plant in Dublin that will create 460 new jobs. Hwashin has facilities around the globe, including its first in the U.S. in Alabama.

Hyundai Industrial Co., Ltd., to invest $24 million in Coweta County, Ga.

The automotive parts supplier will create 100 new jobs at a new manufacturing facility near Newnan, becoming yet another part of the large network of suppliers for Hyundai and Kia since Hyundai’s Metaplant announcement.

Savannah officials know their work is cut out for them to supply Hyundai’s Metaplant with workers

Trip Tollison, head of the Savannah Joint Development Authority (JDA), a coalition of four county economic development authorities that helped recruit the Hyundai project with its projected 15,000 workers, knows that the Savannah area cannot place those workers today. But in late November, Savannah JDA officials laid out a comprehensive strategy to address the shortfall. The approach calls for the formation of a Regional Workforce Development Collaborative for the Savannah area that will focus on three areas:

  • Recruitment of military retirees and others exiting the Armed Forces from nearby installations such as Fort Stewart. According to the study, 3,500 veterans exit the military locally each year, and 75 percent want to stay in the Savannah area.

  • Building a pipeline of non-college-bound high school graduates into the manufacturing sector. In the Savannah public schools alone, approximately 700 graduates a year go to work in the state immediately following graduation, according to statistics from the Georgia Governor’s Office of Student achievement.

  • Attraction of experienced production and assembly line workers from other states. Hyundai has focused its recruitment on three Georgia neighbors — Tennessee, South Carolina and Alabama — already home to 10 different automakers. Trip Tollison indicated the JDA will broaden its reach to other Southern states, as well as those in the Midwest.

The plan is designed to meet a projected labor force demand of 20,000 workers by 2030, with 16,000 of those employees needed by 2027. About half of those will be involved in production work, including general laborers, assemblers and machinists, according to the study.


Blue Oval SK will open a 51,000-square-foot executive office in Elizabethtown, which is near Glendale, Ky., where Ford and SK On are building two massive battery plants at BlueOval SK Battery Park.BlueOval opening office in Elizabethtown, Ky.

Blue Oval SK will open a 51,000-square-foot executive office in Elizabethtown, which is near Glendale, Ky., where Ford and SK On are building two massive battery plants at BlueOval SK Battery Park. The two plants combined are a $5.8 billion investment that will create 5,000 new jobs. The new office will serve as a recruiting center for workers to BlueOval.

Ford is postponing production at second EV battery plant in Kentucky

Originally, Ford announced two electric vehicle battery plants at the former Glendale megasite in Hardin County, Ky. The first facility is well under construction; however, the domestic automaker is postponing the second plant as it weighs the market. Officials at Ford are “slowing down” investments in electric vehicle production given the “dynamic” market of EVs at this early date of the new industry. Ford has also slowed production and future capacity at plants in Michigan to better match EV demand. 

Toyota Boshoku America and Gov. Beshear celebrate announcement of $225 million investment in Hopkinsville, Ky.

The automotive supplier will bring 157 high-paying jobs to Western Kentucky.


Could Toyota build cars one day at its massive battery plant in Randolph County?

Back in the early 2000s, former Toyota site searcher Dennis Cuneo and the late Jim Fain, the former North Carolina Commerce Secretary, were seen at the same site in Liberty where Toyota is building its $14 billion battery plant right now. Could the Japanese automaker one day assemble EVs there? at a press event in November, Toyota Battery Manufacturing North Carolina President Sean Suggs said it was not “impossible,” but not his concern at this point.

EV materials project lands outside the heart of the Southern Automotive Corridor

A North Carolina county on the coast has landed a major economic development project. Epsilon Advanced Materials, an India-based manufacturer of battery materials, is planning to invest roughly $650 million to build its first North American factory in Brunswick County, N.C., far outside the spine of the Southern Auto Corridor, which now is I-65 and I-75, considering Hyundai’s Metaplant near Savannah and other projects. The company could create 500 jobs over three years to produce natural and synthetic graphite anode material.

EV battery maker already hiring for new factory in North Carolina

Forge Nano announced that a new offshoot of the company plans to create 200 jobs in a new lithium-ion battery plant in Morrisville, N.C. The company will produce high-energy, high-power lithium-ion battery cells for defense, aerospace and EVs with a $165 million investment.


ZF Transmission invests $500 million

ZF Group, an OEM for a variety of vehicles, announced in late November it is expanding ZF Transmission in Gray Court, S.C. Since 2013, the company assembles eight- and nine-speed transmissions for passenger vehicles. ZF will soon be building transmission in the EV world. The $500 million deal will create 400 new jobs.

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