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Alabama automakers gear up for new milestones in 2022

Alabama’s automakers are eyeing growth on many fronts in 2022, with plans for new models, additional employees and advanced technology that will help usher in the next era of vehicle manufacturing in the state.

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing will continue to ramp up its auto assembly operations in Huntsville, following a year that saw the debut of its first Alabama-built vehicle, the Toyota Corolla Cross, in September.

Next up is the Mazda CX-50, which is set to start production this month.

“This is truly a unique moment in history for Mazda – the CX-50 was designed specifically for a North American driver and is being produced in North Alabama,” said Jessica Luther, a company spokeswoman. “MTM is thrilled to share these milestones with our parent companies, as well as our stakeholders and supporters in the North Alabama community.”

In addition to increasing production of the Mazda and Toyota SUVs, MTM plans to begin its second shift this year and continue expanding its workforce, Luther said. So far, the company has hired 2,800 employees, with an additional 1,200 left to hire in 2022.

MTM expects to produce up to 300,000 vehicles annually.

EV PRODUCTION

Elsewhere in Alabama’s auto industry, another big milestone is expected in mid-March. That’s when Mercedes-Benz U.S. International plans the grand opening of its battery pack assembly plant in Bibb County.

Mercedes, which pioneered the modern auto industry in the state, is launching its long-planned electric vehicle technology and will begin producing electric SUVs at its Tuscaloosa County factory this year.

The planned start for EV production is mid-year, said company spokeswoman Felyicia Jerald.

“We’ve already been running trials for our batteries in Bibb County, and we have trials going on now for our EVs,” she said.

The Bibb County facility is a second campus for MBUSI, which has produced more than 3.6 million luxury models in Vance over the past 25 years. The current lineup includes the GLS and GLE SUVs, the GLE Coupé and the Mercedes-Maybach GLS SUV.

Mercedes also has been in the midst of a new hiring wave, adding several hundred employees across its state operations to meet growing demand and prepare for the upcoming projects.

This year is also historic for Toyota’s engine manufacturing plant in Huntsville, which is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its groundbreaking. Last year, the facility produced 606,890 engines and plans are in place for additional output.

“We just launched our new twin-turbo V-6 line in October, which will give us the capacity to build 900,000 engines per year,” said Bekah Schmidt, a company spokeswoman.

The event followed a $280 million expansion project at the Huntsville plant. The new hybrid electric-powered twin-turbo V-6 engine and gas-powered twin-turbo V-6 engine will power the redesigned 2022 Toyota Tundra pickup.

TRAILSPORT BADGE

Honda’s Alabama Auto Plant in Talladega County closed out 2021 in a big way, launching mass production of the refreshed 2022 Honda Passport SUV, which is hitting dealer lots this winter.

The Lincoln factory also has begun building the first Honda TrailSport models, including the Passport TrailSport and the Pilot TrailSport.

The badge highlights off-road capability, versatility and durability engineered in Honda light trucks, with models that feature a unique grille, 18-inch black alloy wheels and tires with a rugged sidewall.

In November, Honda celebrated its 20th year of building vehicles in Alabama, a global hub of light truck production for the automaker.

Workers have produced more than 5 million vehicles and V-6 engines, and the current lineup includes the Odyssey minivan and Ridgeline pickup, along with the Passport and Pilot SUVs.

In Montgomery, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama also just wrapped up a busy 2021, with the completion of a $410 million expansion and the addition of two new models to its assembly line.

Hyundai also marked a production milestone in completing the 5 millionth vehicle produced at the Montgomery plant.

The new models, the Tucson SUV and the Santa Cruz crossover, are the fourth and fifth models, respectively, in the plant’s lineup, joining the Sonata and Elantra sedans and the Santa Fe SUV.

Because of all that activity, no major projects are planned for 2022, said Robert Burns, HMMA’s vice president of human resources and administration.

“We will focus on improving our production processes to support the five different vehicles we are producing on our single assembly line,” he said.

The work will include replacing old robots or other aged equipment on weekend or during the plant’s annual summer shutdown.

And since Hyundai is entering its 17th year of production in Alabama, Burns also anticipates hiring new employees to replace those who will retire this year.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

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