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 Southern Auto Corridor News

October 1, 2009

Nissan to Break Ground on Tennessee Lithium-Ion Battery Plant

Nissan is poised to break ground on a $1 billion lithium-ion battery plant at its massive facility in Smyrna, Tenn. The plant will include three "modules" which can produce 54,000 electric car batteries a year. Each module will cost $350 million to construct, which means the bulk of the loan the Department of Energy is giving to Nissan will be spent on battery production. The Japanese automaker is also retooling one existing assembly line in Smyrna to produce its first electric, zero emissions vehicle, the Leaf. Nissan is also making similar investments in battery manufacturing at other plants around the world, including one in northeast England. The Leaf, dubbed the world's "first electric car designed for affordability and real world requirements," is slated for launch in Japan late in 2010 and in the U.S. by 2012. Nissan operates assembly plants in the Southern Automotive Corridor in Canton, Miss. and in Smyrna and its North American headquarters is located in Nashville. The Japanese automaker also operates other facilities in the South, including distribution centers and engine plants.

Penske Pulls the Plug on Saturn Deal

On September 30, the Penske Automotive Group announced that it has backed out of a potential acquisition of the Saturn brand from General Motors. Penske officials had an agreement with GM where the Detroit automaker would continue assembling Saturn models for a certain period of time. At the end of that period, Penske would have had to find another automotive manufacturer to build the Saturn brand. Penske had negotiated terms and conditions with Renault's Korean division, Renault Samsung Motors, to take over the manufacturing of Saturn models. However, those negotiations were terminated by Renault's board of directors in late September. GM and Penske announced a preliminary sale of Saturn in June. GM announced it will now shut down the Saturn brand and its dealership network.

Kia Gears Up for November Production Launch

Kia officials announced in late September that the opening of its new plant in West Point, Ga. is on schedule to begin production for the first time in mid-November. The first 2011 models assembled at the West Georgia facility, including the Sorento SUV, will be ready to ship by truck and train to dealership locations in the U.S. and Canada at some point in January 2010. At full production, the Kia plant has the capacity to assemble 300,000 vehicles a year. In August, Kia reported a 16.4 percent increase in sales of its vehicles.

Automotive Startup Announces Big Plans in Alabama

On September 23, Yung "Benjamin" Yeung, the former chairman of Brilliance China Automotive Holdings, announced that his new automotive venture, Hybrid Kinetic Motors (HK Motors), plans to build a $1.5 billion, 6,000-employee assembly plant in South Alabama. The site of the prospective plant is located north of Bay Minette in Baldwin County. At a news conference attended by local and state leaders as well as Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, details of the new vehicles were presented. HK plans to build cars, SUVs, crossovers and trucks at the facility that run on new technologies that combine compressed natural gas, gasoline and electricity. Officials with both the company and the state of Alabama said that the company has not raised enough funds as of yet to build the plant and that incentives will not be negotiated until more money is raised for the venture.
 
Company Adding Jobs to Supply VW, BMW

Brose Tuscaloosa announced in September it plans to invest $4.1 million and create 30 new jobs at its Tuscaloosa, Ala. plant to accommodate future production of engine cooling fans for BMW in Greer, S.C. and seat components for the new VW plant in Chattanooga. Brose is adding 39,000 square feet of manufacturing space at its facility in Alabama. Brose also produces door systems for Mercedes-Benz at its plant in Vance, Ala.

BMW Celebrates 15th Anniversary in South Carolina

On September 8, 1994, the first U.S. made BMW 318i rolled off the line in Greer, S.C. Fifteen years later a right-handed drive Monaco Blue X6 xDrive 35i rolled off the line, marking the 1,500,000th BMW vehicle to be assembled in South Carolina. The vehicle was shipped to an owner in Hong Kong. Today, BMW employs more than 5,000 workers in the Upstate region of South Carolina and over the last 15 years the German automaker has invested more than $4 billion in the facility.

One-Millionth Alabama-Made Mercedes SUV Rolls off Line

In September, Mercedes-Benz celebrated the one-millionth M-Class SUV assembled at its plant in Tuscaloosa County, Ala. The 1 millionth Alabama-made M-Class is a ML 350 BlueTec diesel that was shipped to a Mercedes dealership on the West Coast. The German automaker rolled off the first M-Class in Alabama in February of 1997.

Mercedes Cutting 200 Jobs at Alabama Plant

In September, Mercedes-Benz announced it will trim 200 jobs at its Vance, Ala. plant by the end of the year, bringing the total work force to about 2,800 workers for 2010. In 2008, Mercedes employed about 4,000 workers at the plant. Approximately 1,000 of those took buyout options in the last quarter of 2008.

Carter Logistics Opens Tennessee Cross-Dock Operation

Carter Logistics, a third-party logistics provider, recently announced the opening of a cross-dock facility that will create 75 new jobs in Andersonville, Tenn. The new facility will support Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America's consolidation and supply chain efforts. The facility, which occupies the former Flowers Bakery plant in Andersonville, opened on September 1.

Toyota Moving Small Truck Production to San Antonio

After announcing it is moving production out of the California plant it shared with GM, Toyota officials recently decided to move assembly of its Tacoma truck model to its plant in San Antonio. Since 2006 the Japanese automaker has produced only one model in San Antonio and that is the full sized Tundra pickup. Sales of the Tundra have declined over the last two years and news of a new model coming to the San Antonio plant will be welcomed by the 21 parts suppliers located onsite. Toyota will end production at its plant in Freemont, Calif. in the spring of 2010 and begin assembly of the Tacoma in San Antonio in the summer. GM has already stopped production at the California plant. As many as 1,000 new jobs are expected to be created at the San Antonio plant.

Continental Closing Alabama Plant

Continental Automotive Systems announced it will close its automotive parts plant in Huntsville by December 31. The product lines made by Continental in Huntsville will be relocated to plants in Seguin, Tex. and to two locations in Mexico. The plant currently houses approximately 1,000 employees.

VW Adding to Chattanooga Plant

In the early fall quarter, Volkswagen officials announced they are adding 43,000 square feet of production space to the assembly portion of the plant that the German automaker continues to build in Chattanooga, Tenn. The added space will enable VW to boost production capacity in the future. Initial production of 150,000 vehicles annually at the plant is still planned when the $1 billion facility opens for business in 2011.

Dalkotech Announces New S.C. Facility

Canada-based Dalkotech, a maker of welded and machined parts such as hydraulic and fuel tanks, announced in late September it is locating a new facility in Newberry County, S.C. The deal is expected to create 50 new jobs.

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