Ramping up vehicle production

More team members are being hired and trained as Mazda Toyota increases production

In the paint shop at Mazda Toyota Manufacturing.

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing (MTM) continues to ramp up production and hiring at its new Huntsville plant. The operation is the first joint Mazda and Toyota collaboration of its kind, representing a $2.3 billion investment in the creation of a cutting-edge manufacturing environment.

Mark Brazeal, vice president of administration for MTM, is understandably proud of the growing operation. “What is truly unique about Mazda Toyota Manufacturing is that we are not just a manufacturing plant located in Huntsville, built in Limestone County, and hiring Alabamians,” he says. “We are the only location for Mazda Toyota Manufacturing in the world. We are the manufacturing facility and the corporate office — MTM is Alabama, specifically North Alabama, and we hope to represent the values of the people who live here.”

Toyota and Mazda first announced in August 2017 an alliance to create a joint venture to produce vehicles in the United States. By then Huntsville had paved the way for the plant — commissioning a master plan in 2008 for newly annexed land in Limestone County; then winning Tennessee Valley Authority certification for the land as a 1,242-acre TVA megasite in 2016. Combining the certified megasite with workforce, education, infrastructure and quality of life measures, the city was able to lure MTM.

The plant began production of its first SUV model, the Toyota Corolla Cross, in September 2021 on the Apollo assembly line. A second model, the Mazda CX-50, was first manufactured on the company’s Discovery line in late January 2022. “These new model SUVs were launched on two separate production lines within a four-month time period in a new manufacturing plant,” Brazeal says. “This really is a remarkable achievement accomplished through a lot of teamwork and quite a bit of perseverance.”

On the Apollo Quality Line.

By July 2022, a second shift was added to the Apollo line. About 1,000 new workers were hired last year as the plant marched forward on its goal of 4,000 employees. It currently employs 3,700.

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Since production began, the Huntsville plant has built in excess of 125,000 vehicles, including more than 90,000 Toyota Corolla Cross and more than 35,000 Mazda CX-50. Production numbers could go up over the coming year. The plant’s capacity for production on the Apollo and Discovery assembly lines is 300,000 vehicles annually. “As MTM continues to improve its process capability and team member skill through its ramp-up period, daily production volume continues to increase,” Brazeal says.

Now the operation is planning the start of a new Discovery line second shift this year, which will require additional staffing. “MTM continues to build capacity and ramp up its production, while continuing to hire new team members every week,” Brazeal says. “In a competitive labor market, MTM finds innovative ways to attract, onboard and train its team members. This unprecedented hiring and production plan has helped to build a stronger culture at MTM, where everyone contributes to building something new and innovative.”

On the Discovery Assembly Line.

The Toyota Corolla Cross is Toyota’s first entry into the crossover market, combining features of a traditional sedan with an SUV, including all-wheel drive and fuel efficiency. The model is supplied to customers in the continental United States and four U.S. territories. It’s also exported to Canada and Mexico.

The Mazda CX-50 crossover SUV combines different drive modes and offers an available turbo engine to match various types of terrains. It’s supplied to customers in the continental United States and Puerto Rice and is exported to Canada, Mexico and Colombia.

Looking over the past year, Brazeal calls attention not only to the plant’s manufacturing success but also to MTM’s Inaugural Grant Fund, which provided $180,000 to 10 area nonprofits. “MTM takes pride in reaching start of production milestones for both of the vehicles that it produces,” he says. “MTM also takes pride in living up to its promise to be a hometown company, providing support to the local community and nonprofit organizations who serve their team members.”

Nonprofits that benefitted were Huntsville Hospital Foundation, Agape of North Alabama, United Way of Madison County, Drake State Technical College, Limestone County Career Technical Center, Madison County Career Tech Center, Madison City Schools, Athens State University Foundation, The Cap and Gown Project and KTECH.

This year will be exciting for the operation because of the planned start of the Discovery Line second shift, as well as additional hiring and giving, Brazeal says. “MTM will continue to be a steward of its local community, supporting workforce partners, as well as launching the second round of grant fund giving.”

Kathy Hagood is a Homewood-based freelance contributor to Business Alabama.

This article appears in the March 2023 issue of Business Alabama.

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