Hyundai Motor America Boss Fires Shot Heard ’round Alabama

It was, perhaps, a throwaway line, a thought in passing, or as the mayor of Montgomery put it, just an “unfortunate comment.” But in a May story for Automotive News by Gabe Nelson that discussed Hyundai’s new Santa Cruz concept, Hyundai Motor America CEO Dave Zuchowski briefly unsettled the spittoon when he suggested Montgomery might have trouble filling additional jobs at Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama.

The story cited concerns about a shortage of trained workers. Some of the workers at the factory live hundreds of miles away, sleeping in rented spaces near the plant and returning home on their days off, it suggested.

An expansion, Zuchowski said, “would really burden the labor force.”

Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange didn’t even bother with damage control — he went right on the offensive, firing back through various media outlets.

“How many people live in Pensacola and work in Mobile? That’s the nature of economic development, ” Strange told Business Alabama. “People will travel to a good job, take a day room for a month or two, then maybe an apartment for a year, and then build a house.

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“The proof of our capability in providing workers came two years ago when Hyundai wanted to start a third shift and had to have 877 new workers. AIDT did the advertising and got 25, 000 applications, and after just three weeks had all 877 positions filled. They didn’t miss a beat, and they continued to get world class marks on initial quality, the highest quality of any OEM in North America, ” Strange says.

The mayor says he’s invited Zuchowski to come down to Montgomery and personally see everything the city and state are doing to keep Hyundai clicking along.

Meanwhile, the Santa Cruz is thought to be the solution for Hyundai’s comparative lack of crossovers and trucks. According to Zuchowski, it could be the first Hyundai sold with a diesel engine in the U.S.

Text by Dave Helms

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