I recently found myself in the market for a new car. After an exhaustive search, the technology, safety, and performance of the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport won me over. During my research, I was surprised to learn that Hyundai manufactures the car in nearby Montgomery, Alabama and that they also give free tours of their facility. Getting an inside look at how my car was made seemed exciting to me and Pat. After an easy sign-up on their site, we anxiously awaited the day we would get to enter the chocolate factory with our golden ticket.
On the day of our tour, we arrived at Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama (HMMA) early, as advised. We were guided to a large visitor center. The expansive room serves as part gallery, part showroom, with a small gift shop in the corner. One side of the room showed off all the different models Hyundai produces. The opposite side of the room featured museum-style displays detailing factory history and Hyundai facts. The center of the room contained two scale models of the factory: one showing the exterior of the plant, including all buildings; the other, an aerial view of the general assembly complete with lights indicating the path through the factory line.
To kick off the tour, our guide Alan gathered us into a large room and told us a few fun facts about the company and the factory: Did you know that the word “Hyundai” means “modern” in Korean? We also watched a couple videos, including (my favorite), their 2017 super bowl spot featuring Ryan Reynolds.
Alan and the videos gave us a sense of HMMA’s local community. HMMA opened in 2005 so it’s still pretty new. It was a huge win for Alabama to have the Korean car maker invest in the area. Hyundai added an impressive number of jobs, stimulating the local economy even as the nation went through a recession.
We also learned some impressive stats about the facility. It makes about 369,000 cars a year, 1,550 per day. There aren’t a lot of errors either. Approximately 97% of the cars make it through their rigorous testing before they’re sent to dealerships across the country.
After a great introduction to the company, we donned headsets and safety glasses, loaded ourselves onto a golf cart, and made our way around the grounds of the factory.
The first stop on the tour was the Stamping Shop. Here large 20 ton coils of galvanized steel are stretched out and cut. The steel sheets are then “stamped,” or pressed, to create the car’s body parts (doors, hoods, etc). From here the pieces are welded together by hundreds of machines. It was like a scene out of “Transformers” with sparks flying and dozens of fast moving robotic arms– I’ve never seen so many robots in one place. From stamping and welding, a series of elevators whisk away the car to the Paint Shop.
Tours don’t go into the Paint Shop, so we just saw the building from the outside. Due to the sensitive nature of the painting process, workers entering area undergo a decontamination to enter that part of the facility. We saw a video back at the visitor’s center gave us a glimpse at this step: Cars take a 360 degree dip into a tank of electrically charged coat of paint. The electric charge helps the neutral base coat adhere to the car’s body. This coat also makes the car rust proof. Next, robots paint the color of the vehicle. Multiple colors are painted in succession (i.e. one blue car, followed by a red, then white). However, since white is the most popular car color with U.S. consumers– that’s what they mostly do.
Next we made a stop at the Engine Shop. Alan informed us that Hyundai is one of the only companies to manufacture its own engines. Transmission systems for the Hyundai vehicles get built at the Kia West Point, Georgia facility, while the engines for both the Kia and Hyundai brands are made in-house at HMMA. The two facilities are only about an hour away from each other, which makes the swapping of parts relatively easy.
Lastly, we headed to General Assembly. This is the largest part of HMMA and where the cars really come together. We watched as the Sonata, Elantra, and Santa Fe Sport made their way down the line in random succession. Here they got all their bells and whistles. We saw seats put in and speakers going into doors. Individual risers raise and lower each car as fuel tanks and chaises are installed.
This is the part of the plant where most of HMMA’s employees work. While there are some robots and machines in this area, it’s predominately people who put the cars together here. Everyone seemed happy and friendly– throughout the tour workers waved and smiled at us as we drove by in our golf cart. One enthusiastic employee shouted “Go Hyundai!” as we passed through. It was impressive to see such passion on the job.
At the end of the line we watched as completed cars speed off toward the Test Track. Hard to believe it started as the roll of steel!
The entire tour took a little over an hour. Alan did a great job teaching us about the car making process. However, the best part was witnessing such incredible technology in action. The whole facility is an amazing orchestra of moving parts and coordination between man and machine. I can see why Hyundai is eager to show off the facility on tours– its state-of-the-art facility is exquisitely run. The property is well maintained, with apple trees lining pathways and very clean grounds throughout.
I highly recommend signing up for a tour if you plan on being in the area. Be sure to book quickly, as the tours can fill up months in advance.