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NORTH AMERICAN AUTOMOTIVE
From Site Selection magazine, May 2024
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Speedbumps Here, Cruise Control There

Companies and locations adjust to a new industry landscape.

NORTH AMERICAN AUTOMOTIVE
Hyundai Motor Group in October celebrated the one-year anniversary of the groundbreaking for its Metaplant for EV and battery manufacturing in Bryan County, Georgia.
Image courtesy of Hyundai Motor Group

by Mark Arend
R

ivian Automotive’s March decision to pause construction of its $5 billion EV plant east of Atlanta hasn’t gone over well with state officials who just two years ago were elated to announce the project. In April, letters between the automaker and the state and Joint Development Authority for the four Georgia counties that share the site were exchanged to determine how Rivian’s site obligations would be met during the pause. The Atlanta Business Journal reported on April 19 that “Rivian’s overall goal is to use the pause to prepare the project to go vertical when the pause is lifted,” citing a letter to the Georgia parties from Alan Hoffman, Rivian’s chief policy officer.

Ford Motor paused work on its EV plant in Michigan in September 2023 amid tepid sales forecasts and an autoworkers strike. But work on the project resumed in November albeit at a smaller scale. Speedbumps and detours have long been part of the U.S. automotive industry, and they can certainly be expected as the sector transitions to electric power.

Meanwhile, in Bryan County, near Savannah, Georgia, Hyundai Motor Group Metaplant America expects to begin production in early 2025 at its Metaplant — a complex for the manufacture of EVs and the batteries to power them. In October 2023, the company celebrated the one-year anniversary of the project’s groundbreaking.

In August that year, Hyundai Motor Group and LG Energy Solution announced they would invest an additional $2 billion in its battery cell manufacturing facility at the Metaplant, bringing the JV’s total investment there to more than $4.3 billion. Combined with the EV production operation, that brings capital investment in the Metaplant to more than $7.5 billion, with 8,500 jobs expected to be created over the next eight years. (See Top Deals on p. 84 of this issue.)

“In collaboration with our trusted partner Hyundai Motor Group, this investment underscores our dedication to driving America’s EV transition while bolstering the local economy through the creation of quality jobs,” said Dong-Myung Kim, president and head of the Advanced Automotive Battery Division of LG Energy Solution, at the JV’s announcement. “Thanks to the support from the State of Georgia, we are excited to bring in our top-quality products and storied operational experience to grow together with its communities.”

Hyundai Day 7Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and company and state leaders celebrated Hyundai Motor Group’s positive impact on the state during Hyundai Day at the State Capitol, Feb. 26, 2024, when the company announced it was ahead of schedule and moving up the start date of its $7.59 billion, 8,500-job Metaplant to the fourth quarter of 2024.
Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

According to a Hyundai Motor Group release the “30 GWh facility will be able to support the production of 300,000 units of EVs annually at full operations. Hyundai Mobis will assemble battery packs using cells from the plant, then supply them to the Hyundai Motor Group’s U.S. manufacturing facilities for production of Hyundai, Kia, and Genesis EV models.” 

In April, Hyundai signed a 15-year agreement with Matrix Renewables, based in Spain, to purchase 147 MW of energy from Matrix’s Stillhouse Solar Project in Bell County, Texas. The agreement will supply energy to the Bran County Metaplant and other Hyundai facilities in the U.S.

How One Company Is Meeting the Metals Challenge

As EV plants open and ramp up production in the U.S. and globally, battery metals projects are working to meet booming demand for lithium, nickel, graphite and other metals required for EV batteries. Benchmark Mineral Intelligence forecasted in 2022 the need for nearly 400 new mines by 2035 to meet demand. Facilities for processing the metals also will be required, which can be an economic boon to the communities that win them.

Chester County, South Carolina, for example, is the site of a $1.3 billion lithium hydroxide Mega-Flex facility announced in 2023 by Charlotte, North Carolina–based Albemarle Corporation that the company says will create 300 jobs.

The company says Mega-Flex refers to “the facility’s ability to process diverse lithium feedstock, including lithium from recycled batteries. Albemarle expects the facility to annually produce approximately 50,000 metric tons of battery-grade lithium hydroxide from multiple sources, with the potential to expand up to 100,000 metric tons. Production at the facility would support the manufacturing of an estimated 2.4 million electric vehicles annually.” 

“This facility will help increase the production of U.S.-based lithium resources to fuel the clean energy revolution while bringing us closer to our customers as the supply chain is built out in North America,” said Albemarle CEO Kent Masters, announcing the Palmetto State project.

Also in 2023, Albemarle signed an agreement with Ford Motor Corporation to supply the OEM with battery-grade lithium hydroxide for its EV production. Keeping such supply-chain components in the U.S. is increasingly important to Albemarle’s customers, noted Eric Norris, president of Albemarle Energy Storage. 

“With the growing demand for EVs in the United States,” he explained at the agreement signing, “our customers are seeking to regionalize their supply chain for greater security, sustainability and lower costs. This agreement exemplifies the industry collaborations and investments required.” The two companies also plan to collaborate on developing a closed-loop solution for lithium-ion battery recycling.

Albemarle also is active in metal mining. It secured a $90 million Department of Defense grant for mining equipment to be used with the reopening of its lithium mine in Kings Mountain, North Carolina. The company says the mine has a rare hard rock lithium deposit and will support production of more than 1 million EVs annually.

More German Investment in Ohio

German automotive supplier Schaeffler is expanding its footprint in Ohio with a new facility for making automotive electric mobility solutions, including electric axles for light- and medium-duty vehicles. It’s investing $230 million in a greenfield facility in Dover that will create 450 jobs and has other investments planned for the state through 2032.

The company says the new manufacturing facility location is in the proximity of Schaeffler’s customers, major automotive OEMs, strategic suppliers, rail, access to highways and to the company’s Wooster facility, which specializes in the manufacturing of transmission systems and serves as an innovation hub for automotive electric mobility.

Schaeffler recently expanded the Wooster plant by nearly 90,000 sq. ft. to produce electric motors and components for powertrain systems. It’s also working with The Ohio State University to open a battery cell R&D center set to open in 2025. In addition to Ohio, the company has manufacturing operations in Connecticut, South Carolina and Missouri. 


 

What Comes Next?

In January, Atlanta-based Cox Automotive, a leading automotive services and technology provider, released its Forecast: 2024. It suggests five themes to watch in the U.S. automotive industry as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes further into the past (see infographic).

“A decade from now, when we look back at the years immediately following the global pandemic of 2020, we’ll be awed by the dramatic swings and unprecedented circumstances the economy and auto market endured,” said Cox Automotive Chief Economist Jonathan Smoke. “To name a few, we saw historic appreciation in vehicle values, unimagined drops in supply, and interest rates moving from all-time lows to 23-year highs at an unforgiving pace. The past four years have been chaotic, even by auto industry standards, and have shifted many normal seasonal patterns out of whack, which adds to the difficulty of forecasting what comes next.”

Cox-Automotive-Forecast-2024-Infographic

Mark Arend
Editor Emmeritus of Site Selection magazine

Mark Arend

Mark Arend is editor emeritus of Site Selection, and previously served as editor in chief from 2001 to 2023. Prior to joining the editorial staff in 1997, he worked for 10 years in New York City at Wall Street Computer Review, ABA Banking Journal and Global Investment Technology. Mark graduated from the University of Hartford (Conn.) in 1985 and lives near Atlanta, Georgia.

 



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