Hyundai to build top-selling EV model at Georgia factory

Plant near Savannah to begin production with 2025 IONIQ 5 later this year.
Hyundai announced Tuesday, June 18, 2024, that the first electric vehicle model it will build at its Georgia Metaplant will be the popular Ioniq 5 crossover. SPECIAL

Credit: DWilson_PR

Credit: DWilson_PR

Hyundai announced Tuesday, June 18, 2024, that the first electric vehicle model it will build at its Georgia Metaplant will be the popular Ioniq 5 crossover. SPECIAL

SAVANNAH — From a speeding motorist’s viewpoint along I-16, the sprawling Hyundai electric vehicle assembly plant appears ready to open.

In this case, looks are not deceiving.

The South Korean automaker began test production in the 16 million-square-foot assembly factory in May, with a second run launching this week. Hyundai has temporarily paused hiring for assembly line workers after reaching their initial staffing goals. And on Tuesday, the company announced it will manufacture the Hyundai IONIQ 5, its most popular electric vehicle model, at the Georgia factory, known as the Metaplant, when full production begins later this year.

“Savannah and the Coastal Empire are now on the automotive map,” said Joe LaMuraglia, the Hyundai Metaplant’s communications and PR manager.

LaMuraglia would not disclose the plant opening date, the number of IONIQ 5s to be produced once the factory opens or the size of the initial workforce, although he did say the plant would operate with one eight-hour shift in its early months. Hyundai officials have said the factory is designed to operate 24 hours a day and to produce 300,000 vehicles a year with the capacity to increase production to 500,000 autos annually.

The Hyundai electric vehicle assembly plant, seen here on June 18, 2024, is to begin production of the Hyundai IONIQ 5 later this year. (Photo courtesy of HMGNA)

Credit: Photo courtesy of HMGNA

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Credit: Photo courtesy of HMGNA

Prep work began on the 2,906-acre site less than two years ago and vertical construction commenced in early 2023. The plant is located near Ellabell, a small community located 30 miles west of downtown Savannah.

The $7.6 billion project, which includes an EV battery manufacturing facility as well as the assembly factory, is the largest economic development project in Georgia history. The Hyundai plant will employ 8,500 workers upon full buildout, forecast for 2031. Suppliers located nearby will hire another 6,000 employees and a second battery plant in Bartow County an additional 3,500.

According to a study by the Center for Automotive Research, an independent, non-profit research firm based in Michigan, Hyundai’s investments in Georgia are forecast to create 40,000 jobs generating $4.6 billion in individual incomes annually.

“This is a very exciting time for” Hyundai, said Oscar Kwon, president and CEO of the Hyundai Metaplant. “We are in the final phase of construction and are getting ready for the 2025 Hyundai IONIQ 5 to roll off the line. It’s the ideal vehicle for us to start production with.”

Demand-driven decision

Hyundai showed off the 2024 version of the IONIQ 5, a compact SUV, during a Tuesday news conference at the automaker’s dealership in Savannah. Workers at the nearby factory will manufacture the 2025 model, based on the same body style with slight design differences.

Buyer demand drove Hyundai’s decision to open the Georgia plant with the IONIQ 5, LaMuraglia said. The model is the automaker’s best-selling EV, with 34,000 units sold in 2023. Hyundai reports sales are up 43% in 2024 and 82% in May alone.

The 2024 IONIQ 5 retails for $41,800, with Hyundai currently offering a $7,500 cash rebate in lieu of federal EV tax credits. The 2024 model is not eligible for those breaks because it is not manufactured in the United States. Those incentives will be available on the IONIQ 5s made at the Georgia factory once the onsite battery plant begins manufacturing the power packs in mid- to late-2025, LaMuraglia said.

“Not immediately but soon after,” he said, noting construction on the battery plant is well underway.

The slow buildout of EV charging stations infrastructure is affecting sales, experts say. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

The IONIQ 5 is just one of several models to be manufactured at the Hyundai Metaplant. The automaker intends to make EV models for all three of its brands — Hyundai, Kia and Genesis — at the factory and is considering manufacturing hybrid models in Georgia as well.

Hyundai officials said they were open to making hybrids earlier this year as sales of EVs in the U.S. trended behind industry forecasts. Another EV maker with plans to build a Georgia assembly plant, Rivian, suspended construction on its project located along I-20 in southern Walton and Morgan counties, 40 miles east of Atlanta.

Many experts blame the slow buildout of EV charging infrastructure for the slump. Political uncertainty is another factor: EVs have become a flashpoint in the presidential election race between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, with Biden championing EVs while Trump has vowed to roll back federal tax incentives if elected.

Tuesday’s IONIQ 5 announcement came on the same day that Gov. Brian Kemp met with South Korea President Yoon Suk Yeol during the governor’s 10-day trade mission to the Asian country. Yoon asked Kemp specifically for continued support of Korea’s electric vehicle and EV battery manufacturing businesses in Georgia.

Hyundai’s LaMuraglia noted the Hyundai plant is designed differently than the typical auto assembly factory, with vehicles moving through the facility on a conveyor belt and automated guided vehicles delivering parts and performing tasks alongside workers, which Hyundai calls metapros. This approach is meant to allow for the production of more than one vehicle model on the same assembly line.

“It’s a super flexible plant, so as demand changes, we’ll be able to change with it,” LaMuraglia said.