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 Southern Auto Corridor News
June 2017

For real-time news on business, politics and economic development in the South, go to For all projects announced in the South, go to And for more information on rural development in the South, visit

Mercedes' big Alabama expansion finishing up
Fifteen months after the groundbreaking, the new $1.3 billion, 1.3 million-square-foot Mercedes-Benz body shop at its plant in Vance, Ala., is nearing completion. Most of the construction is finished and it's now time to install state-of-the-art equipment before the shop can be operational sometime next year. When completed, nearly 1,000 robots will help assemble 300,000 vehicles a year. Driverless, auto-guided vehicles will use 36,000 magnets that have been installed in the floor of the body shop to deliver components and the vehicles to each work station. The magnets will replace the traditional conveyor belts that typically move parts and vehicles through the shop. 
China automaker Great Wall Motor to build North American plant
In May, the CEO of China's Great Wall Motor Company said that the company is searching for sites in Mexico and the U.S. to build a new assembly plant. Great Wall is China's largest SUV and pickup truck manufacturer. Officials with the company told Reuters that the site choice will depend on trade issues among the U.S., Mexico and China. 
Automotive, aerospace industries prompt big deal in Eastern Kentucky
In the spring, startup aluminum manufacturer Braidy Industries announced it will build a 2.5 million-square-foot, fully integrated aluminum rolling mill in Eastern Kentucky that they say will be the "most technically advanced mill in the U.S." The plant will produce about 370,000 tons of aluminum per year. The $1.3 billion project will create 1,000 construction jobs and 500 full-time, high-paying jobs in Greenup County. Growth in the automotive and aerospace industries and their increased use of aluminum as a lighter replacement of steel prompted the building of the new mill. As of May 2017, Eastern Kentucky has lost over 8,000 coal jobs, meaning the mill located near Ashland on the Ohio River should have plenty of labor available in what is an ever-increasing tight labor market in the American South. 
Valvoline opens new headquarters in Lexington, Ky. 
In the spring quarter, Valvoline opened its new $35 million, 162,400-square-foot headquarters in Lexington. The premium lubricant manufacturer employs about 1,100 people in Kentucky and 5,500 worldwide. 
Hino adds production line in Marion, Ark. 
Hino Motors Manufacturing, a division of Toyota, has started a new production line at its plant in Marion, Ark. The company is now producing rear axles and other components for the Toyota Tacoma. Over the last few years, Hino has invested more than $280 million in the plant that also produces suspension components, stampings and frames for a variety of Toyota models. 
Truck manufacturer to locate in McKinney, Texas
PACCAR, a manufacturer of a variety of trucks, will locate a new facility in McKinney to produce its Dynacraft series. The $20 million plant will house an undetermined number of workers. 
World's largest auto refrigerant plant opens in Louisiana
Honeywell celebrated the startup of its $300 million Louisiana plant that makes a next-generation auto air conditioning refrigerant. The facility's product will sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 
Jacksonville port lands new Alfa Romeo Giulia
Jaxport, one of the leading vehicle import points on the East Coast, is now the Southeast distribution point for the mid-size Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan. The lineup includes the 280-horsepower Giulia, the Giulia Ti and the 505-horsepower Giulia Quadrifoglio. 
Another tire manufacturer captured by Tennessee
Finland-based Nokian Tyres announced in the spring it will build a $360 million tire production plant in Dayton, Tenn. It is the largest foreign direct investment in Rhea County's history. The new 830,000-square-foot plant will house 400 workers. 
Toyota moving thousands of employees into new Texas headquarters
They are coming from Kentucky, California and New York to a spanking new headquarters in Plano, Texas. We're talking about Japanese automaker Toyota and the consolidation of its three North American headquarters into one in the Dallas-Fort Worth MSA. About 250 team members moved into the new 100-acre, 2.1 million-square-foot corporate campus in May, and each week since Toyota has moved about that many employees into the new facility. The new headquarters has room for 6,500 employees.  
Automotive sales and assembly boom is slowing in the U.S. and the Southern Automotive Corridor
The automotive industry is one of the most important forecasters of any economy. Its expansion from a total of 10.4 million light vehicle retail sales in 2009 to 17.4 million in 2016 has added hundreds of thousands of jobs in the South and three new assembly plants -- Volkswagen (now operating since 2012 in Chattanooga); Mercedes-Benz van plant in North Charleston, S.C.; and Volvo's Berkeley County, S.C., plant. The latter are under construction. But sales are slowing as April saw the fourth straight month of a sales retreat for light vehicles, the longest stretch of declines since 2009. Many experts are saying that auto sales have peaked and are set for the first yearly decline in seven years. 
Kia rolls out one millionth Sorento model at Georgia plant
In the spring quarter, Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia celebrated the assembly of its West Point, Ga., plant's one millionth Sorento model. KMMG launched production of the Sorento in November 2009. The $1.1 billion plant supports more than 15,000 jobs in West Georgia. 
Toyota's vehicle data science hub doubling headcount in Texas
Toyota Connected, the automaker's data science division located next to the company's new headquarters in Plano, Texas, is doubling its employee headcount to 200. 
Auto parts supplier expands in Kentucky
Kobe Aluminum is investing $51 million in its plant in Bowling Green, Ky. The parts supplier will increase its headcount from 500 to 629. 
Some facts about today's automotive industry
* The average age of vehicles in the U.S. is a record 11.6 years. 
* The average length of ownership is almost seven years.
* The average price of a new vehicle is $34,342. 
* The average price of a compact SUV is $28,395. 
* The average price of a full-size pickup is $45,252. 
* The average price of a full-size SUV is $60,670. 
* Last year, Americans had accumulated just under $1.2 trillion in outstanding auto debt. 
* Baby boomers account for 36 percent of new car purchases. 
* Millennials account for 29 percent of new car purchases. 
* Generation X members account for 25 percent of new car purchases.  
Sources: Kelly Blue Book, IHS, J.D. Power
Big aluminum mill announced in Kentucky
Tri-Arrows Aluminum will build a new cold rolling mill that produces aluminum sheets that are used for beverage cans and automobiles. The $125 million plant will be located next to the Logan Aluminum plant in Logan County, Ky., and will house 60 workers. 
Charlotte-based Nucor expanding Kentucky mill
Nucor Steel Gallatin Mill will expand its plant in Ghent, Ky. The plant produces rolled steel sheet used in automotive and agricultural equipment. The $176 million expansion will generate 75 jobs. 

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