Montgomery Business Journal

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New Launch Energizes HMMA Employees

Summer 2014

By David Zaslawsky

One of the employees at Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama’s facility in Montgomery – at least one – has a vanity license plate that says: “I built it.”

Employees built just a shade less than 400,000 Sonatas and Elantras last year. Now with the 2015 Sonata launch – an all-new Sonata – it will be up to the production department to do its job. No matter how stunning the vehicle is; how well it handles; how quiet the ride is; all the safety features it has; how roomy the interior is; or how magnificent the technology is – Montgomery has to do its job for the 2015 Sonata to be successful.

“There is no absence of anxiety among our management staff and production team members because we need to get it right from the very beginning,” said Rick Neal, senior vice president for human relations and administration for HMMA.

“You’re building a brand new car and the quality has to be as good or better as the current vehicle because without quality we have nothing – particularly in a new vehicle launch.”

The launch of the 2015 Sonata is so critical to Hyundai that during its reveal at the New York Auto Show in April, Dave Zuchowski, president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America (HMA), the marketing and sales arm, told HMMA employees via a webcast that is “one of the most important vehicles in our entire lineup.” Then he turned the heat up even more: “You know how important this vehicle is to the entire Hyundai brand.”

The Sonata is so important to U.S. sales that it was the company’s best-selling vehicle for eight straight years and was second to Elantra last year. Sonata sales have topped 200,000 in each of the past three years with a high of about 230,000 units in 2012. Sonata sales are projected to reach 225,000 this year, Neal said, which would include both the 2014 model and the 2015 model.

The seventh-generation Sonata, code named LF, was scheduled for full production in mid-May. Neal said that there has been “a lot of added pressure and stress because our president has given us the command that he wants our quality for the new launch to be as good or better than the quality of our current YF Sonata within a period of just two weeks.”

That’s pressure.

“One thing that you’ll find when you talk to team members across the campus is that they all realize that the car they’re building that very minute could be sold to a family member, a friend, a friend of a friend,” Neal said. “They know they have to get everything right because their own flesh and blood could be buying one of these cars and driving it around town. They want everything to be perfect as it should be.”

The new launch has energized employees from the assembly line to those in management and that’s important to Fountain Valley, California-based HMA. Zuchowski said that HMMA “is integral to what we are trying to do. We couldn’t do it without them. They do a terrific job. It’s not just sheet metal. You need the individual worker to take personal pride in that and know it’s built in Montgomery, Alabama. And that’s how we all win.”

Neal said that “our team member population is extremely proud to work at HMMA and to build the best-selling vehicle in the Hyundai lineup for sale in the United States.” He said that the Sonata 2015 launch “is an energizing event. We’ve been building the YFs since 2011 and it’s repetitive work. You come in and build the same thing day after day; week after week; month after month. Now you have an opportunity to build something brand new, and that just gives team members something else to look forward to – a change of pace. They are excited about the improvements that have been made.”

That new launch is “exciting” for Ashley Frye, vice president of production for HMMA and a 33-year veteran in the automotive industry. “There are some of us kind of like that (adrenaline junkies) when it comes to new product launches. It is truly invigorating.”

Some of the HMMA employees on a webcast likened a new launch to giving birth to a baby. Frye described a new launch “actually is participating in the cycle of life because you bring in a new product and you’re going to carry it through its four or five years. You never allow time to be sad at the passing of the old model because you have the new one coming along and it has you all worked up saying, ‘Yah, I’ve got another one coming.’

And you’re loving every minute of it.”

Neal thanked the community for the support it gives HMMA. “I’m not aware of any other OEM (original equipment manufacturer) anywhere in the United States that gets the kind of support we get from our local community leaders and this trip to New York was no exception,” he said, referring to the auto show where the 2015 Sonata was revealed to the public.

The Montgomery contingent was represented by Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield; Dan Harris, vice chairman of the Montgomery County Commission; Leslie Sanders, chairman of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and vice president for Alabama Power Co.’s Southern Division; Capell & Howard shareholder Henry Hutchinson; Auburn University at Montgomery Chancellor John Veres III; David Reed, executive vice president of Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood; Lance Hunter, CEO of Hodges Warehouse + Logistics; Carl Barker, president/CEO of ServisFirst Bank in Montgomery; Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce President Randall L. George; and Ellen McNair, senior vice president of Corporate Development for the Chamber.

Neal said although some areas might become complacent and take you for granted, the community’s support for HMMA is “genuine and continuous. It makes us feel good to know that they continue to welcome us being here.”

Click here for next story - New Sonata Revs Up Pulse Rates


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