4 years ago

RECORD YEAR: Alabama auto production accelerates to all-time high in 2016

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Alabama’s auto production climbed to a new record high in 2016, as workers at the state’s three auto assembly plants kept up a brisk pace of building SUVs, pickups and sedans for markets around the world.

The Alabama factories of Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz combined to produce at least 1,048,597 vehicles, according to year-end figures reported by the companies. The tally is approximate because some numbers are preliminary.

That total is a 1.4 percent increase from 2015, when the automakers topped the 1 million mark for the first time and set the previous annual record.

Gov. Robert Bentley tours the Honda Alabama plant. The auto sector has been a key driver of job growth for the state.
Gov. Robert Bentley tours the Honda Alabama plant. The auto sector has been a key driver of job growth for the state.

“Alabama’s auto industry continues to be a powerful force for the companies that have planted deep roots here, as well as for the skilled, dedicated workers of our state,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

Commerce Sec. Canfield presents MollerTech leaders with an Alabama seal at a groundbreaking ceremony. The company is one of several suppliers moving into Alabama.
“There’s also a robust pipeline of new automotive jobs, investments and products, so we expect production to remain strong in the years to come,” Canfield added.

STRONG DEMAND

Honda Manufacturing of Alabama set new marks for output for 2016, with an estimated total production of 369,576 vehicles and engines, a record high for the Talladega County facility.

Customer demand has been strong for the redesigned 2017 Ridgeline pickup, which made its debut on Honda’s Alabama assembly lines last year and is now one of three finalists for the North American Truck of the Year.

Honda officials also cited the popularity of the rest of its Alabama lineup, including the Pilot SUV, Odyssey minivan and Acura MDX sport utility.

Honda Alabama threw a launch party to celebrate the start of mass production for the second-generation Ridgeline pickup at the automaker's assembly plant in Lincoln. (Image: Dawn Azok)
Honda Alabama threw a launch party to celebrate the start of mass production for the second-generation Ridgeline pickup at the automaker’s assembly plant in Lincoln. (Image: Dawn Azok)

And 2016 was also memorable for other reasons: It marked the 15th anniversary of the company’s production startup in the state, and workers produced the 4 millionth Alabama-built Honda.

Hyundai turned out 379,021 cars and SUVs at its Montgomery plant in 2016. That’s down slightly from the previous year’s total of 384,519 vehicles, but the automaker’s Alabama workers were also busy in 2016 taking on a new model.

After a $52 million investment, the Santa Fe SUV began rolling on Hyundai’s Alabama assembly lines in June, joining the Sonata sedan and Elantra compact. The move marked a return to the plant for the Santa Fe, which had been shifted to a plant in Georgia in 2010.

And the Tuscaloosa County operation of Mercedes-Benz U.S. International reached its stated annual capacity of 300,000 vehicles. As is customary, the German automaker will announce an exact production tally for its Alabama operation later this year, so it did not provide a preliminary year-end figure.

Hyundai launched mass production of Santa Fe Sport SUV at its Montgomery assembly plant on June 22. (Image: Hyundai)
Hyundai launched mass production of Santa Fe Sport SUV at its Montgomery assembly plant on June 22. (Image: Hyundai)

Last year also brought major changes to the Mercedes plant, as work continued on a $1.3 billion, 300-job expansion. The project is setting the stage for the next generation of luxury SUVs that will be produced in Alabama.

Meanwhile, another record was achieved at Toyota’s Huntsville engine factory.

Toyota Motor Manufacturing of Alabama produced 702,014 engines, an all-time high and an 11 percent increase from 2015.

The facility – the only Toyota operation globally to produce four-cylinder, V6 and V8 engines under one roof – also marked the 15th anniversary of its groundbreaking in Alabama last year.

And early this year, Toyota is scheduled to produce its 5 millionth Alabama-made engine.

EVOLUTION

Mercedes' Alabama operation is adding 300 workers as part of a $1.3 billion expansion under way in 2016.
Mercedes’ Alabama operation is adding 300 workers as part of a $1.3 billion expansion under way in 2016.

Along with increased production, Alabama’s auto industry has transformed in other ways since it launched two decades ago.

The jobs and skill sets required to keep production humming has grown, and the auto factories have expanded their ranks of highly-skilled professionals.

Plus, 2016 saw continued expansion. New jobs and millions in capital spending were announced in communities across Alabama, in activities ranging from parts production to precision machining and engineering.

“It was yet another very successful and record-breaking year for Alabama’s automotive industry, which continued to grow and add thousands of jobs in 2016,” said Steve Sewell, executive vice president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama.

“In addition to the great impact the industry has on our economy, the state’s automotive companies continue to bring positive recognition to Alabama, our workforce and climate for business,” Sewell added.

Toyota's Alabama engine plant, which now employs 1,350, has been in constant growth mode. (Image: Toyota)
Toyota’s Alabama engine plant, which now employs 1,350, has been in constant growth mode. (Image: Toyota)
5 hours ago

Alabama basketball completes the sweep against Auburn

Fresh off of winning the SEC regular season championship for the first time in 19 years, the Alabama Crimson Tide on Tuesday completed a sweep of Auburn for the first time in six years after defeating the Tigers at home 70-58.

Jayden Shackelford led the way for Alabama in Tuscaloosa, as the talented sophomore guard went 5-9 from behind the arc to finish with 23 total points in the win over Auburn.

Sophomore Jahvon Quinerly scored 11 points off of the bench and provided sparks for Alabama in crucial moments of the game.

While Alabama led by as much as 16 points in the first half, Auburn was able to cut the lead to five in the second. However, Alabama’s defense began to stiffen up, and seniors Herbert Jones and John Petty stalled the Tiger’s offense out before they could get too hot.

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For the Tide, the three-ball has become a major part of their offense. Second-year head coach Nate Oats always tells his players to get at least one touch in the paint first before shooting. This green-light mentality is becoming more and more popular throughout college hoops.

Bama has done really well with this philosophy by becoming one of the most dominant teams from downtown in the conference. Tuesday’s game showed that even when the three doesn’t come through for the Tide, they have other ways of scoring.

Alabama drove the basketball extremely well in the second half against Auburn and proved to be the more physical team in their win on Tuesday night. When tournament time begins, they may have to lean on this more physical style of play in certain games.

The Tide have one more regular season game against Georgia in Athens on Saturday. Bama will look to finish the regular season on a win before the SEC Tournament in Nashville gets underway.

The Tide are currently projected to be a two seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Hayden Crigler is a contributing college football and college basketball writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him through email: hayden@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter: @hayden_crigler.

5 hours ago

Alabama House recap: Bills to increase executive branch oversight, update sex ed language pass chamber

MONTGOMERY – The Alabama House of Representatives met Tuesday and passed six pieces of legislation, including bills that would increase oversight of executive branch agencies and update language in the state’s policy on sex education.

After convening shortly after 1:00 p.m. the chamber spent much of the next five hours in extended debate on two bills, with members of the Democratic Party engaging in protracted discussions of legislation they began their remarks saying they would ultimately vote for.

Seeing the most debate were HB 392 from Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) and HB 103 from Rep. Jamie Kiel (R-Russellville).

Jones’ bill creates a joint legislative committee to oversee large financial agreements made by the executive branch, and Kiel’s would prevent the state government from picking which businesses close during states of emergency.

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More information on Kiel’s bill is available here.

The legislation from Jones, chair of the powerful Rules Committee, would create the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Obligation Transparency. The committee would have the authority to approve or disapprove of contracts, leases and agreements by the executive branch and the agencies therein.

Under the proposed law the committee would meet to review any financial agreement greater than $10 million or 5% of the agency’s annual appropriation from the State General Fund.

Making up the committee would be the chair, vice-chair and ranking minority members of the committees in each legislative chamber that oversee taxation.

The proposed oversight committee would be able to meet when the legislature is in or out of session. It would have to issue approval or disapproval within 45 days of a state agency submitting a proposed contract.

If the proposed committee disapproved of a contract it would be delayed from going into effect until the end of the current or next occurring general session of the legislature.

Jones noted in remarks on the floor that this delay would give lawmakers time to address via legislation the proposal disapproved of by the committee, and added that new legislation would be required to put a halt to any state contract of which the proposed committee disapproved.

HB 392 ultimately received unanimous support in the House, with a final vote of 98-0.

Also passing the House on Tuesday was HB 385 sponsored by Rep. Laura Hall (D-Huntsville). The bill updates language in the legal code that governs how Alabama educators must teach sex ed.

It also deletes from the Code of Alabama language that requires those teaching sex ed to emphasize that “homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of the state.”

Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur) and Rep. Charlotte Meadows (R-Montgomery), two staunch conservatives with backgrounds in education policy, spoke in favor of the legislation on the House floor and voted for its passage. The bill passed the House on a vote of 69-30.

Three other pieces of lower profile legislation passed the chamber on Tuesday:

HB 255 from Rep. Randall Shedd (R-Cullman) that would add a tenth member to the advisory board of directors of the Department of Senior Services, and let ex officio members name a designee to serve in their place.

HB 330 from Rep. Alan Baker (R-Brewton) that would change the outdated language in the state legal code concerning video depositions in criminal prosecutions.

HB 136 from Rep. Chip Brown (R-Hollinger’s Island) that would designate the aquarium at Dauphin Island Sea Lab as the Official Aquarium of Alabama.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

8 hours ago

Alabama House passes bill that would block the government from picking and choosing which establishments close during states of emergency

MONTGOMERY – The Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday that would prevent the state government from designating which types of businesses were allowed to stay open in situations such as the one experienced during the advent of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020.

Sponsored by Rep. Jamie Kiel (R-Russellville), HB103 would not infringe on the governor or state health officer’s ability to implement public health guidance. It would only say that any business or house of worship that followed public health guidelines would be allowed to open.

“I think if it is safe enough to go to the liquor store and wear a mask and socially distance, then it is safe enough to go to church and wear a mask and socially distance,” argued Kiehl on the House floor.

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The vote on the floor was 75 in favor and 22 opposed with three members abstaining.

The bill applies to declared states of emergency that involve a “pandemic, epidemic, bioterrorism event, or the appearance of a novel or previously controlled or eradicated infectious disease or biological toxin,” per the text of the legislation.

In explaining what inspired him to author the legislation, Kieh said of last spring, “I saw businesses in my town that were suffering,” adding that some small business owners he knew were “scared to death they were going to lose their livelihoods.”

Governor Ivey’s “Stay At Home” order, in place for most of April 2020, allowed major retailers like Walmart to remain open while smaller retail stores that did not sell groceries were forced to close.

Kiehl feels that this arrangement was unfair, and that small shops and establishments deserved the chance to stay open if able to implement the health guidelines. Ivey has expressed regret in recent months about creating the distinction between “essential” and “non-essential” businesses.

“[W]hat we were really doing is were we driving all the customers that would have been in all these other stores — in the small mom-and-pops, the Hibbetts of the world — we were driving all those to one central location to buy clothing. That cannot be good for the spread of the pandemic — to bring everybody together in one location or a few locations,” Kiel told FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show.”

The National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) is strongly supporting the passage of the legislation.

Kiel’s bill now heads to the Senate for further consideration.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

9 hours ago

Alabama Senate passes Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act

MONTGOMERY — On a party line vote, the Alabama Senate on Tuesday passed SB 10, the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act.

Sponsored by Sen. Shay Shelnutt (R-Trussville), the bill would ban the performance of medical procedures and the prescription of puberty-blocking medications and sex-change hormones used as transgender therapies for minors, with certain exceptions.

The vote was 23-4, with the only four Democrats present all dissenting: Sens. Billy Beasley (D-Clayton), Vivian Figures (D-Mobile), Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) and Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham).

Shelnutt, since first introducing a version of the legislation last year, has said his goal in bringing the bill was to simply protect children from making harmful longterm decisions that they may later regret once more mature.

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“The primary concern here is the health and well-being of Alabama’s children,” stated Shelnutt. “We must protect vulnerable minors who do not have the mental capacity to make life-altering decisions of this caliber. The efficacy and effects of these particular surgeries and methods of treatment are not well-sustained by medical evidence, and actions of this severity cannot be undone.”

“I believe it is our responsibility as lawmakers to do all we can to keep our children out of harm’s way,” he added. “Protecting minors from these powerful drugs and consequential procedures will help ensure they do not feel responsible to make a decision they may wish to later undo, ultimately causing more harm.”

The House Judiciary Committee last week approved as amended the lower chamber’s companion version of the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Wes Allen (R-Troy). HB 1 now awaits consideration on the House floor.

In response to the passage of SB 10, Scott McCoy — SPLC interim deputy director for LGBTQ Rights & Special Litigation — released a statement.

“The Alabama State Senate is dangerously close to passing yet another piece of discriminatory legislation that likely will lead to long and expensive litigation at high cost to Alabama taxpayers,” McCoy decried.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

10 hours ago

Alabama GOP Senate candidate Lynda Blanchard: 2020 election ‘stolen from President Trump’

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Lynda Blanchard on Tuesday called upon the Alabama House Constitution, Campaigns, and Elections Committee to vote down a bill that would legalize no-excuse absentee voting in the state, among other alterations of Alabama’s elections laws.

The committee is set to meet on Wednesday regarding HB 396, which is sponsored by State Rep. Laura Hall (D-Huntsville). The bill was originally backed by Secretary of State John Merrill, although he has now withdrawn his support for the measure.

Blanchard served in the administration of President Donald J. Trump as his ambassador to Slovenia, the home country of then-First Lady Melania Trump.

The Montgomery resident is Alabama’s only declared U.S. Senate candidate ahead of the 2022 race to replace retiring U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL). Blanchard in a written statement said HB 396 significantly weakens Alabama’s absentee balloting rules.

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“Absentee balloting invites corruption, cheating, and fraud, so it should be allowed only in rare and unavoidable cases,” she said. “The bill that has been introduced in the Legislature leaves the door wide open for ballot harvesting and other abuses that allowed the recent presidential election to be stolen from President Trump.”

“The bill also begins a dangerous process of watering down Alabama’s election laws, which could lead to the repeal of our photo voter ID requirements and other safeguards that Republicans have put in place,” Blanchard continued.

She concluded, “Alabama should focus on strengthening, not weakening, our honest election reforms, and we certainly shouldn’t implement no-excuse absentee voting, which is often used by liberal Democrats who have refined election fraud and ballot stuffing into an art form.”

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth (R-AL) and Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) have already voiced opposition to HB 396.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn