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Behind The Scenes At Hyundai’s Montgomery Plant

Posted in auto industry, Cool Stuff, Featured, Hyundai, Top of the Heap by Kurt Ernst | February 4th, 2011 | 9 Responses |

When Hyundai offered me the chance to tour their Montgomery, AL, plant, my first question was, “No pictures, right?” After all, every possible entry to every possible building was posted with “No Photography” signs, which I assumed would extend to visiting journalists as well as the general public. Not so, and Hyundai gave us media types unrestricted photographic access to the Montgomery plant. We were allowed to go just about anywhere we wanted, accompanied by a guide, except for Hyundai’s paint shop. It’s not that they’ve got super-secret-squirrel stuff going on with their paint, it’s just that they’re trying to minimize outside sources of dust and contamination. One thing we learned early on is that Hyundai takes quality very seriously, and each and every production line worker has the ability and the obligation to stop the line if they spot a defect or problem.

I’ll let the pictures tell the story of Hyundai’s Montgomery assembly plant, but consider this: every worker (called “team members” in Hyundai speak) we saw looked happy to be there. There were a lot of waves, smiles and shout outs, and even line managers took the time to pose for pictures. At the start of the tour, we were greeted by the president and CEO of Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama (HMMA), Mr. Young Deuk Lim, who took time to greet us, shake our hands and pose for a group photo. I’ve toured a lot of different plants and manufacturing facilities over the years, but that was a first for me. You get the sense that Hyundai treats the 2,700 workers at HMMA very well, and in return they work hard for the company. Ironically, that was the very principle that allowed Henry Ford to succeed with the Model T.

Stamping Plant


Hyundai is the only automaker in the world that owns their own steel mill, and all the steel used to build Hyundai automobiles comes from this plant. Here you see rolls of raw steel, being pulled into a machine that cuts the sheet steel into the correct shape for stamping.


Beyond these doors, 5,400 ton presses turn the cut steel blanks into stamped panels for later assembly. Hyundai’s Alabama plant is currently the highest production stamping plant in the world, according to the 2010 Harbour Report.


Stamped door shells, awaiting stacking in overhead bins. The stamping plant and the paint shop are really the only facilities that hold significant inventory; the rest of the plant relies on just-in-time parts deliveries from local suppliers.

Welding Plant


The next stop on the tour is Hyundai’s welding plant, which utilizes 280 robots to join components from the stamping plant to form the car’s unibody, doors, trunk and hood. Hyundai team members are used to install hinges, doors, trunks and hoods, and to inspect the welds prior to painting. Once the body in white is assembled, it’s sent via an overhead conveyor to the paint shop, where the nine hour paint process begins.

General Assembly


Hyundai builds both the Sonata and the new Elantra at HMMA, and the two cars are built simultaneously on a single assemble line. Here you see a painted Elantra, minus the doors, hood and trunk (removed for assembly) that’s just had sound deadening foam and a wiring harness installed.


The blue protective foam indicates that this is a Sonata, which has also just received sound reducing and a wiring harness.


Robots are used throughout the Montgomery plant for any task involving heavy lifting. Here, partially assembled cars have just had the dash assembly fitted by a robot, and are awaiting a team member to bolt them in place.


Throughout the assembly process, platforms can be raised or lowered by workers to provide better ergonomics and reduce strain-related injuries. Here we see unibodies being joined to engine and suspension components.


After team members install the rear seats, the cars travel to the next assembly station on the line.


Wheels are installed by hand, then a machine is used to simultaneously torque all five lug nuts to the correct value. If only I had one of those in my garage…


Nearing final assembly, just prior to the installation of the doors.


Assembly complete, a team member checks the function of various components such as lights and horn, before driving over rumble strips to check for rattles. The next stop is Hyundai’s test track, where each and every car built is driven approximately 2.3 miles, over various road surfaces, to ensure that the vehicle has zero defects prior to preparation for shipment.

Engine Assembly


The last stop on Hyundai’s plant tour is the engine assembly building. HMMA build the normally aspirated 2.4 liter four used in the new Sonata, the 2.0 liter turbo used in the Sonata Turbo and is ramping up to build the 1.8 liter four for the new Elantra. Here you see racks of cast engine blocks (probably 2.4 liter variants) awaiting assembly.


Engines awaiting main bearings and crankshafts.


A big box o’ crankshafts, awaiting transit to the production area.


Turbo assemblies, awaiting their marriage to a 2.0 liter engine. I suggested that Hyundai use the 274 horsepower turbo motor from the Sonata to build an Elantra R Spec, but they said, “show us the demand”. How about it – does a 274 horsepower Elantra R Spec with a six speed manual sound interesting to you?


An engine on the line, awaiting final assembly. Note the use of a timing chain, not a timing belt.

Hyundai’s plant tours are free and open to the general public, but I doubt you’ll get the same leniency about photographs that we did. If you’re interested in a plant tour, you can schedule them here, and I’d say it’s well worth the stop if you find yourself in the area.

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9 Responses

  1. Jen says:

    “Does a 274 horsepower Elantra R Spec with a six speed manual sound interesting to you?”…Let me think about that for a min- YES!!!! Demand? College kids who can’t quite afford a Genesis, Civic Si, GTI, MS3, etc (Hyundai value wins out). Or maybe a younger, small family who needs 4 doors but doesn’t want to sacrifice a more entertaining driving experience, and doesn’t necessarily want a larger Sonata. And I wouldn’t be surprised if they come out with a Kia Forte R-Spec type of car, why not the Elanta? I think they should at least consider it, maybe tease it at a car show, guage reaction. How many people are dying to get the new Focus ST? I think the market is there but Hyundai’s never been there before, so maybe they don’t realize it yet.

  2. Kurt Ernst says:

    Jen, Hyundai has big plans for the Veloster, which they believe is “sportier” than the Elantra. I say there’s room for both in the product line.

    • Jen says:

      Oh, I read about that. I feel “meh” about the Veloster. I can’t wrap my head around the “3 door” thing. I don’t understand why their “fun” car has to be the oddball but then, maybe that’s why I’m not a designer. I agree though, there’s room for both because I think the Veloster is going to be like the Juke or the Cube. You either love it, or you hate it with the red hot intensity of a thousand suns.

      • Kurt Ernst says:

        That’s why I definitely think there’s room for both a “Veloster R-Spec” and an “Elantra R-Spec” in Hyundai’s lineup.

  3. Rob says:

    I have to say that definitely sounds interesting. In fact, when I saw the first Elantra show up at the Hyundai dealership I used to work at, My first thought was “put the 2.0T and the Tuscon AWD system in that.”

    Granted, it would require a bit of re-engineering of the exhaust routing, as the centre tunnel through the car is rather small, but if there is enough demand, it can be done.

  4. Leigh says:

    Love the detailed write-up and the pics.

    • Kurt Ernst says:

      Thanks Leigh! I was traveling light, so I only brought my point and shoot camera. If I had known we were going to have unrestricted access, I’d have brought my good camera and a tripod. All the monochrome shots were taken in “night vision” mode, which allowed me to shoot things I otherwise would have missed.

  5. Nagarjuna says:

    who ever the editor of this article may be.HYUNDAI IS NOT THE ONLY COMPANY IN THE WORLD TO MAKE CAR WITH ITS OWN STEEL.TATA GROUP IN INDIA IS ONE OF THE LARGEST STEEL MANUFACTURING COMPANY (12TH) IN THE WORLD .ESTD IN 1907.THE TATA MOTORS ALSO DOES THE SAME