Savannah, Georgia is as nice as its name. A southern coastal city of Goldilocks size featuring antebellum architecture, a charming and walkable downtown, a deep water port, and a forward-looking business community, it was attractive enough to lure what will be the keystone electric vehicle manufacturing facility for the world's third-largest automaker by volume: Hyundai Motor Group (HMG).
Drive along the Jim Gillis Historic Savannah Parkway (I-16) about 25 miles outside of town and you'll notice a significant stretch of the ubiquitous slash and loblolly pine forest has been cleared from the south side of the road to create an impressively large construction site. It is so massive you'll see an array of earth-moving equipment, cranes, and the skeletal beginnings of a number of buildings for a good sixty seconds as you speed along the East-West corridor.
This is the future location of the Hyundai Motor Group Metaplant America (HMGMA): a 2,923-acre complex where the Korean company and its partners will invest $5.5 billion to build electric vehicles, along with batteries and powertrain components to power them.
It's just one of a number of EV manufacturing plants and battery factories being constructed in North America right now, as forward-thinking automakers take steps to stay competitive in a market where domestic production is being incentivized at a previously unknown scale via the Inflation Reduction Act.
We've already told you about the decision to build there and some of the partners involved in the project, but those previous posts, written from a birds-eye view, only tell part of the story. InsideEVs was invited to Savannah by HMG to learn more about the plant at ground level. For good measure, they also threw in a Hyundai Ioniq 6 drive program.
That streamlined sedan is the latest in a number of models based on the E-GMP platform coming to populate the vehicle lineups of the Hyundai, Kia, and Genesis brands. The Ioniq 6 itself has garnered a number of awards for automotive excellence and highlights a conumdrum for the company.
With practically every automaker in the world trying to engineer a better EV, Hyundai Group has set itself apart from the competition in terms of powertrain, vehicle dynamics, and styling. They've engineered some of the most compelling vehicles on the market but it still hasn't been smooth sailing for the company.
Originally, the big problem was mostly about supply - there just weren't a lot of these E-GMP-based vehicles to meet demand. Now, with the introduction of the $7,500 IRA tax credit for domestically produced vehicles, the issue is matching the value of offerings from the elephant-EV-maker-in-the-room, Tesla, whose customers can take advantage of the credit. As it stands, some Hyundai Group brand buyers can only realize the incentive through a leasing loophole.
That's where the Metaplant comes in. In its initial phase, it will be able to produce 300,000 vehicles a year, increasing to 500,000 if the market warrants expansion and its on-site battery facility will add to its domestication of cell supply. The automaker hasn't said which vehicles will be produced there, but it's very possible that staging a Hyundai Ioniq 6 drive program during the media event was a hint. It was also intimated that models from all three Hyundai Group's brands might be made at the site.
Gallery: Hyundai Motors Group Metaplant America planning and development
With the pressure to produce a supply of vehicles in North America, comes the need for speed, and this project is coming together seemingly very fast. Agreements between Hyundai Group and local authorities were signed in May of 2021, site clearing began in August with construction kicking off in January of 2023. The buildings should be completed this autumn, when manufacturing machinery will then be installed. Initial production is planned for April of 2024, ramping up to full production in 2025. By any standard, that is fast!
Hyundai Motor Group deserves some credit for this speed - at the time of this writing, the project is actually ahead of its ambitious schedule - but their work was only possible because of the vision and work put in by the Savannah Harbor-Interstate 16 Corridor Joint Development Authority (Savannah JDA). Remember that mention of a forward-looking business community?
Originally, the Savannah JDA took a leap of faith and purchased this and other plots of land for supporting businesses almost a decade ago, when it had no tenants or even prospects. The proximity to a port and rail lines, ample electricity generation, a talent pool for the expected 8,100 eventual workforce, and a city nice enough to attract more top talent are all important factors that led to this site being chosen from eighteen original contenders.
But though this "Metaplant" will be a key facility for HMG electric vehicle production, the company is also moving forward on bringing EV and battery production at other locations around North America.
The Genesis Electrified GV70 is now being built at HMG's plant in Montgomery, Alabama. The Kia EV9 will soon enter production at Kia's assembly plant in West Point, Georgia, and it seems very plausible that the Hyundai Ioniq 7 will join it there. HMG and battery maker SK On have formed a joint venture to build a 35-GWh battery plant in Bartow County, Georgia north of Atlanta. South of the US border, Kia has also confirmed it will manufacture two electric models at its factory in the state of Nuevo Leon, Mexico.
With almost every automaker with showrooms in the US scrambling to adjust to the new push for the domestication of electric vehicle production, Hyundai is showing it is committed to the North American market in a big way, starting with Metaplant America.