Southern Automotive Conference shines spotlight on Alabama auto growth

Alabama’s expanding auto manufacturing sector occupies center stage as industry leaders from across the region and beyond gather in Birmingham for the 14th installment of the Southern Automotive Conference, which began Wednesday and continues through Friday.

SAC 2021 is expected to draw more than 1,000 attendees and 200 exhibitors to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. The conference has a special focus on original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), suppliers and service providers operating in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

Premier sponsors of SAC 2021 are AIDT, which is Alabama’s primary workforce development agency, and a unique training center it funds, the Alabama Robotics Technology Park, along with the Alabama Works initiative.

“As a premier sponsor, we want to demonstrate the commitment AIDT and the Alabama Department of Commerce have to our automotive partners and to the very important work they do in providing a solid economic foundation for the state,” said Ed Castile, director of AIDT and deputy Commerce secretary.

“We are especially pleased to work with the world’s best car companies in Alabama, and we welcome our sister states as we come together to celebrate many successes in developing the Southern automotive corridor,” he said.

SAC 2021 kicked off Wednesday afternoon with a matchmaking session that linked suppliers with OEMs, followed by an evening reception sponsored by the Alabama Department of Commerce.

A full program began Thursday morning, with welcoming remarks from Gov. Kay Ivey and Ron Davis, president of the Alabama Automotive Manufacturers Association (AAMA), which is presenting the conference.

Sessions feature key leaders from Alabama’s automakers and breakouts on topics such as electric vehicles adoption, supply chain sustainability and workforce development challenges.

The event concludes Friday after a panel discussion featuring Ivey, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster. Awards including AAMA’s Supplier of the Year and the 2021 SAC Hall of Fame honoree will be announced.

Production is underway at Huntsville’s Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, with the first dealer-ready Toyota Corolla Cross rolling out last month and the Mazda CX-50 coming in January. (Mazda Toyota Manufacturing)

Dynamic growth

The hosting of the conference in Birmingham this year is sure to cast a light on Alabama’s expanding auto sector, which continues to register milestones and anticipate new ones.

“The U.S. auto industry’s center of gravity has clearly shifted to the South, and Alabama’s rapidly accelerating auto sector is positioned to continue benefiting from this seismic transition,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

Ed Castile, director of AIDT, left, with Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. (contributed)

Earlier this year, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama added two models – the Tucson SUV and the all-new Santa Cruz crossover – to the production lineup at its Montgomery factory, pushing its vehicle total to a record five simultaneously.

Last month, the $2.3 billion Mazda Toyota Manufacturing plant in Huntsville produced its first dealer-ready vehicle – a 2022 Toyota Corolla Cross – and announced it would begin assembling the all-new Mazda CX-50 in January 2022.

Meanwhile, Alabama’s automakers and their supplier networks have launched hiring waves, with assistance from AIDT. Thousands of jobs are available.

“We are full partners with all of our auto OEMs and almost all their suppliers in the workforce space, having recruited, assessed and trained workers for many years and through all their expansions,” Castile said.

“We are currently working with the Alabama operations of Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz on fairly large expansions, with Honda on a series of smaller expansions and with Mazda Toyota Manufacturing as it starts up,” Castile said.

The industry’s rapid adoption of electric vehicle technology has created new priorities for AIDT and its counterparts in the region.

“With the introduction of the new EV technologies, all of AIDT’s programs are laser-focused on our rapidly expanding automotive business,” Castile said. “We are proud to work shoulder to shoulder with all as we assist them in developing their respective workforces.”

In 2022, Mercedes-Benz will begin assembling two electric SUVs at its Tuscaloosa County plant, and Hyundai’s facility in Montgomery is expected to launch EV production.

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.