TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Projects in Tuscaloosa and Bibb counties spearheaded growth in the state’s automotive industry during 2016, according to an analysis by the Alabama Department of Commerce, which projects additional growth this year.

“Our deep roots in the auto industry keep growing deeper,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the commerce department, in a July 24 news release. “Last year alone, there were new or expanding auto companies in 26 Alabama counties, showing the vast reach of auto production in Alabama.”

The news release also notes that the state’s automotive industry is poised for continued growth in 2017, pushing past a total of $1 billion in new capital investments as Alabama enters its second decade of vehicle production.

The 2016 projects cited in the news release included:

. The 535-job expansion of Tuscaloosa County’s Lear Operations Corp., which supplies seating systems to the Mercedes-Benz U.S. International factory in Vance.

. MollerTech USA’s new $46.3 million, 222-job facility in Bibb County, which manufactures parts for car interiors.

. Hyundai’s $52 million investment in upgrades to its Montgomery plant to bring the Santa Fe SUV back to its assembly lines.

. A $14.5 million, 200-job expansion for Eissmann Automotive North America Inc. in St. Clair County.

Elsewhere, Spain’s Truck & Wheel Group is building its first U.S. parts plant in Tuscaloosa County, investing $30 million in an operation that will employ 70 people. In Lee County, the Berghoff Group announced a $30 million, 100-job precision machining facility.

The news release said that Mercedes officials recently underlined the importance of SUV production in Alabama during discussions with various suppliers, including Lear, SMP and Kamtek.

“The increasing requirements due to a continual rise in production numbers for the SUV segment was a massive challenge for all suppliers, which was mastered very well,” said Klaus Zehender, member of the divisional board of Mercedes-Benz Cars, Procurement and Supplier Quality.

Jason Hoff, president and CEO of the Alabama operations at MBSUI, emphasized the partnership that has grown over the years since the first Mercedes M-Class rolled down the automaker’s Alabama assembly line on Feb. 14, 1997.

“Mercedes-Benz became the first auto manufacturing plant to build vehicles in Alabama more than 20 years ago and, since that time, other automakers and suppliers have joined us,” Hoff said. “Our suppliers have found – just as we have – that Alabama is a great place to do business.”

The foundation of the state’s automotive industry consists of assembly plants operated by Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Hyundai, as well as Toyota’s major engine plant.

For 2017, the commerce department cites these projects as evidence of continued growth in Alabama’s automotive sector:

. Auto supplier Hanwha Advanced Materials America LLC plans to invest $20 million to upgrade its manufacturing facility in Opelika, adding 100 new jobs over the next three years.

. Honda announced plans to invest $85 million at its Lincoln plant in the first phase of a multi-faceted project to improve manufacturing flexibility, strengthen logistic efficiency for future models and prepare for future technologies.

. Spain-based auto supplier Grupo Antolin announced plans to invest nearly $10.4 million to establish a manufacturing facility in Jefferson County that will employ 150 people by 2020.


Information from: The Tuscaloosa News, http://www.tuscaloosanews.com