Hyundai Goes Truckin’

A $410 million expansion at Hyundai’s Montgomery plant is adding the Santa Cruz pickup to the Sonata, Elantra and Santa Fe lines. Spokesman Robert Burns (above) says the compact pickup is perfect for hauling outdoor gear and home improvement materials. Photo by Robert Fouts

This year Hyundai will dive into an already crowded U.S. pickup truck market with a new vehicle, the Santa Cruz.

The Santa Cruz, which will be Hyundai’s first compact pickup truck, made its debut as a concept vehicle in 2015 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Press reports have said the Korean automaker would market its compact pickup to “young urbanites.”

“This vehicle is designed to offer any consumer who’s interested in a small crossover the flexibility of an open-bed design to haul their outdoor gear or smaller items for a do-it-yourself project from a home improvement retailer,” says Robert Burns, spokesman for Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama (HMMA).

The Santa Cruz will begin rolling off the assembly line at HMMA’s Montgomery plant starting in mid-2021, he says. Team members at HMMA also produce the Santa Fe SUV, as well as the Sonata and Elantra sedans.

The introduction of the Santa Cruz compact pickup comes at a time when Americans’ preference for larger vehicles like SUVs, CUVs and pickup trucks is rising. In fact, the National Automobile Dealers Association forecasts that in 2020, 75 percent of new vehicles sold will be light trucks. The full-size Ford F-150 and Chevrolet’s Ram 1500 and Silverado pickups currently are top sellers in the United States.

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To produce the Santa Cruz, HMMA announced last fall that it would invest $410 million toward expanding the Montgomery assembly plant.

Burns says HMMA team members will assemble the Santa Cruz on its own unique platform and that a full year of production of the vehicle is projected to reach 40,000 units.

The plant’s expansion will include enlarging the welding area, along with the stamping and the parts processing spaces and will likely bring 200 new jobs to the plant and 1,000 additional jobs among HMMA’s suppliers and logistics partners in Montgomery and the region. Hiring at Hyundai is slated during the fourth quarter of 2020, Burns says.

Currently, some 3,000 full-time and 500 part-time team members work at HMMA. The plant operates three eight-hour shifts, five days a week, with an occasional Saturday production to support consumer demand. The shifts will not change with the addition of the Santa Cruz, Burns says.

HMMA’s expansion comes after the plant completed construction on its new engine head machining shop in 2019. The machining shop supports the assembly of more than 650,000 engines a year, he says.

Besides the new machining shop, HMMA also is installing new equipment and technologies in its existing engine shop. The $292 million equipment upgrade began in November 2019 and is set for completion in April 2020, Burns says. The entire project, including the new machining shop, is valued at $388 million.

With the new engine head machining shop in place, HMMA is now one of the first plants in the world to produce a Hyundai innovation called the continuously variable valve duration (CVVD) SmartStream engine. The CVVD technology is designed to improve performance and efficiency and reduce tailpipe emissions. 

Hyundai’s Alabama plant produced 336,000 vehicles in 2019, the company said in January, a 4 percent increase in total output over the previous year. Burns cited increased demand for HMMA-built products and the start of the production of the 2020 Sonata sedan on November 1 as reasons for the uptick in production.

By the end of November, HMMA had exported 22,578 units to four countries.

One HMMA product, the Santa Fe, has continued to grow in popularity among consumers in the United States. November retail sales of the Santa Fe rose 26 percent compared to the previous month and 8.3 percent from November 2018. In addition, the 2020 Santa Fe captured the Kelley Blue Book Best Buy award as the Best Midsize SUV – 2-Row.

Today, teams at HMMA also are assembling the eighth generation Sonata. With a price starting at $23,400, the four-door coupe gets up to 191 horsepower with 38 MPG on the highway and 28 in the city. One model, the Sonata SE, comes with technologies that include Lane Keeping Assist, Collision Avoidance Assist with Pedestrian Detection and Remote Smart Parking Assist where drivers can stand outside the car and park it using a smart key.

The new SE also comes with eight-inch color touchscreen audio and Android Auto™ and Apple CarPlay.

The 2020 Sonata was named among the three finalists for the 2020 North American Car and Utility of the Year awards.

“The Sonata is Hyundai’s longest-standing and most successful model, offering a bold, distinctive design, technologies and advanced safety features,” Burns says.

“The all-new Sonata is the first sedan designed with Hyundai’s Sensuous Sportiness design language,” he says. “Even though during 2019 Sonata sales were down 16 percent prior to the launch of the new design, Hyundai anticipates the new Sonata design to increase its market share in the 1.4 million vehicle mid-size sedan segment. The Sonata currently represents 6.4 percent of the mid-size sedan segment.”

Gail Allyn Short and Robert Fouts are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. Short is based in Birmingham and Fouts in Montgomery.

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