#11 – Inside Our Industry – Full Speed Ahead for Auto Plant Projects

Posted on | Inside Our Industry

A few weeks back, we shared with you a list of upcoming projects specific to electric vehicles (Issue 8). We believe that the electric vehicle market will continue to grow and soon bypass gas-powered vehicles. Despite the current pandemic, several large-investment projects are pushing ahead this summer. The following post, in part, is from autonews.com.

Full speed ahead for auto plant projects
LINDSAY CHAPPELL  |  August 10, 2020

Economic recessions usually cause businesses to pause expensive projects, downsize bullish ambitions and focus on shoring up their core operations.

But the auto industry works differently sometimes. Especially now. Despite the chaos caused by this year’s pandemic crisis, several large-investment projects are pushing ahead this summer. Some began before the pandemic hit. Others are undertakings barreling ahead now in a bid for market share later.

“The industry has been cautious for a while,” observed Bernard Swiecki, director of the Automotive Communities Partnership, an auto project-monitoring program associated with the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. “A number of projects have been walked up to the point of making a final commitment, but then put into suspended animation. So there is a bit of pent-up investment just waiting to get a green light of confidence.

“But there are also a number of companies that just can’t wait for that green light,” he said. “They need to position themselves to gain maximum benefits when the recovery comes.”

Companies often invest during robust times to keep up with customers, capitalize on growth in a particular segment or hire additional workers to raise production levels at existing plants.

That doesn’t capture the outlook for the North American marketplace this year.

In the maw of the coronavirus emergency, millions of Americans have been put out of work, and there is little sign of new opportunity in any corner.

But not all recessions are created equal. The last major recession of 2008-09 caught the auto industry with severe manufacturing overcapacity. Plants closed in 2009.

“This time around, we’re much leaner, and manufacturers have even been straining to meet demand,” Swiecki said. “The industry sees this year’s crisis as not being permanent.

“And even where there is a cash shortage at a company, and an automaker can’t support everything in its plan, you’ll see projects that are related to trucks and SUVs receive priority. The last project you’re going to delay right now is a truck factory.”

These major projects are in full swing:

  • Tesla Inc.said last month it will spend $1 billion to construct a pickup factory in Austin, Texas, a project that will require the electric vehicle maker to hire 2,000 people in the next 24 months. But the construction plan represents a major product initiative for Tesla: electric trucks. And there is little time to lose in that category because competitors see the same gold that Tesla does. General Motors and Ford Motor Co. intend to produce electric pickups. So do startups Rivian and Nikola.
  • Mazda Motor Corp.and Toyota Motor Corp. are midstream in a project to build a $1.6 billion joint-venture assembly plant in Huntsville, Ala., announced in January 2018. Mazda badly needs to increase its portfolio of crossovers and has no U.S. capacity. And Toyota is capacity-constrained to meet its future North American growth forecasts.
  • Ultium Cells LLCis the 50-50 joint venture between GM and the global battery maker LG Chem. Construction of a $2 billion manufacturing center in Lordstown, Ohio, launched this summer. This plant, expected to employ about 1,000, is no mere production-capacity play. The batteries it will produce will be the cornerstone of a new electrified vehicle strategy for GM in the next three years.
  • SK Innovation, the South Korean EV battery maker, began construction last month on its second EV battery manufacturing facility in Jackson County, Ga., as it completes its first one at the site. The combined $1.67 billion project will allow SK to produce enough batteries for 310,000 EVs a year, with Volkswagen as its initial U.S. customer.
  • Nikola Corp.broke ground last month on a $600 million plant in Coolidge, Ariz., where it will produce zero-emission Class 8 semitrucks and create thousands of jobs, according to Coolidge Mayor Jon Thompson. Nikola is a startup that intends to build hydrogen fuel cell-powered commercial trucks for large fleet customers, as well as electric pickups.
  • Ford Motor Co.said at the end of last year that it will invest $750 million in and add 2,700 new direct jobs at its plant in Wayne, Mich., this year and next year. Ford is launching production of the all-new Bronco and Ranger and creating a vehicle modification center at the location.