SUVs Stream Again

Last summer, managers and workers at Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama (HMMA) in Montgomery threw a homecoming celebration. 

In recognition of HMMA reintroducing the Santa Fe Sport vehicle to its production lineup, which includes the Elantra and Sonata sedans, the plant held an actual homecoming parade on its grounds, with team members leading members of the Jefferson Davis High School Band and a group of cheerleaders from Sidney Lanier High School, on hand to enliven the festivities. 

Six years before, Hyundai had stopped production of the Santa Fe at the Montgomery plant and moved it to the Kia plant in West Point, Georgia. Kia is an affiliate of Hyundai. 

In June of 2016, Santa Fe Sport vehicles again rolled off the line in Montgomery, at a cost, officials said, of $52 million to make the necessary modifications to the plant. The move was due to increasing market demands in the popular sport utility segment, says Robert Burns, senior manager for both public relations and team relations at HMMA.

“It was a fairly quick process, ” says Burns. “It was important, as the consumer preference has shifted to trucks and sport utility vehicles, so we could better balance our production here at the facility.”

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And nationwide, sales of the Santa Fe Sport in November were higher than the same month in 2015, according to Hyundai Motor America, a subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Co., of Korea. In November 2016, the company sold 10, 786 Santa Fe Sport vehicles, up from just 9, 156 sold in the same month in 2015. Among its sedan mix, Hyundai Motor America reported 15, 796 Elantras sold in November 2016, down from 17, 634 sold during the same month in 2015. The company sold 15, 363 Sonatas in November 2016, down from 16, 732 in November 2015. 

Hyundai Motor America sells its vehicles and services them at more than 830 dealerships nationwide.

“With gas prices remaining relatively low throughout the year and a rather robust economy, ” says Derrick Hatami, vice president of national sales for Hyundai Motor America in a press statement, “our Tucson and Santa Fe CUVs (crossover utility vehicles), with sales up 10 and 18 percent, respectively, continue to be the shining stars in the Hyundai lineup.”

Burns says that with gas prices still hovering around $2 a gallon, more consumers are opting for larger vehicles such as sport and crossover vehicles for the flexibility that the vehicles offer in terms of storage space and extra seating. The Santa Fe Sport, for example, offers seating for five passengers.

Burns said in December that HMMA had projected that they would produce close to 36, 000 Santa Fe vehicles by the end of 2016. He added that as of the end of November 2016, HMMA workers had already assembled 166, 000 Elantras and 160, 000 Sonatas that year. 

The HMMA team assembled all three vehicles on the same line, says Burns. Overall, the plant has the capacity to build 400, 000 vehicles a year. 

HMMA has been officially rolling out products since May 2005. Today, about 3, 600 team members work at the $1.8 billion facility. 

As for 2017, Burns says HMMA will continue assembling all three vehicles, although plans are in the works to give a facelift to the Sonata — though not a dramatic one — for 2018.

“We will keep building the vehicles and adjusting our mix, based on consumer demand in the year 2017, ” he says. “And, if we need to make other adjustments, we will do so.”  

Gail Short is a freelance contributor to Business Alabama. She is based in Birmingham.

Text by Gail Allyn Short

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