SK and Hyundai plan Georgia electric vehicle battery plant, 3,500 jobs

New battery plant to support future U.S. EV production, including at Kia in West Point and Hyundai’s Alabama factory

South Korean conglomerates SK Innovation and Hyundai Motor Group plan a sprawling electric vehicle battery plant in Bartow County, northwest of Atlanta, a project that is expected to create more than 3,500 jobs and rank as the third-largest corporate investment in state history, Gov. Brian Kemp’s office announced Thursday.

The joint venture between SK subsidiary SK On and Hyundai adds luster to Georgia’s stature as an emerging EV and battery manufacturing hub, which shows no signs of slowing down as automakers bet their futures on electrification. And the project is in addition to multibillion-dollar investments SK and Hyundai have already announced in Georgia.

SK already operates a massive battery plant in Jackson County, about 70 miles northeast of Atlanta along I-85. Hyundai, meanwhile, is building a $5.54 billion EV factory near Savannah, where the company expects to build battery-powered Hyundai, Kia and Genesis models starting in 2025.

In a sign of how rapidly the EV sector is expected to grow, the news release said the new $4 billion to $5 billion battery plant will serve Hyundai’s existing manufacturing plants in the U.S., which include a Kia factory in West Point and a Hyundai factory in Alabama.

The new battery plant is expected to rise in Bartow Centre along Ga. 411, opening in 2025. SK On and Hyundai recently signed a memorandum of understanding regarding this partnership, the governor’s office said.

“Hyundai Motor Group and SK On are valued partners and key players in our state’s ever-growing automotive industry,” Kemp said in the release.

A Hyundai representative did not immediately return a message seeking comment. A spokesman for SK On said the two companies are still reviewing options and discussing details of their cooperation and that more details will be shared in the future.

More than 548,000 EVs were sold in the U.S. through the first nine months of this year, up 70% compared to the same period in 2021, according to auto data firm Kelley Blue Book, which, like The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, is a Cox Enterprises company. EVs made up about 5.4% of all new car sales in the first three quarters of this year, up from 2.7% last year.

David Clayton, executive director of Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research, said from shipping logistics to attracting a workforce — especially in times of low unemployment — EV-related companies benefit from clustering in one region.

“The Southeast is growing in population, attracting folks from all over the country and world, which in a tight labor market is a good sign that the companies will find the workers they need,” Clayton said.

The federal government has boosted incentives to produce more EVs and batteries in the United States, with last year’s Inflation Reduction Act committing $369 billion to accelerate the nation’s transition away from fossil fuels. Timothy Lieuwen, the executive director of Georgia Tech’s Strategic Energy Institute, said the law is leading to an increased investment in domestic manufacturing, even among foreign companies like Hyundai that criticized aspects of the law for presenting short-term hindrances.

“This is exhibit A for what the IRA is trying to make happen,” he said of the Bartow County announcement. “As an industrial policy issue to stimulate investment, particularly in manufacturing investment in the U.S., this signals that it is working.”

Georgia, meanwhile, has positioned itself to be a major player in EVs, also recruiting upstart Rivian, which plans a $5 billion factory about an hour east of Atlanta, where it will employ 7,500.

Hyundai broke ground in October on its sprawling EV and battery factory along I-16 in Bryan County, where the company plans to hire 8,100 and produce 300,000 EVs per year in its first phase. That figure is expected to grow to 500,000 and involve several new EV models, company officials have said.

ELLABELL, GEORGIA - MAY 20, 2022:  Governor Brian P. Kemp, center left, and 
Hyundai Motor Group President and CEO Jae Hoon Chang, center right, sign a ceremonial document at the announcement that the South Korean automotive giant is building an electric vehicle plant in Ellabell, Ga. Hyundai plans to build a multi-billion-dollar electric vehicle assembly and battery plant outside of Savannah that eventually could employ about 8,100 workers. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

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Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

State and local leaders have touted Hyundai’s on-site jobs and investment as well as commitments to bring thousands more jobs at suppliers around Georgia as justification for a record-breaking $1.8 billion incentive package for the Bryan County factory.

So far, two major Hyundai suppliers have announced plans to build factories near the Georgia coast.

The Bartow County battery facility will likely command a similar package of incentives, including grants, tax breaks, infrastructure and free worker training.

Some economists and watchdog groups have criticized lavish state and local incentives, claiming these projects would happen without them. The left-leaning tax incentive watchdog Good Jobs First said it found states and local governments had contributed some $13.8 billion in incentives to land at least 51 EV and battery plants in recent years. Of that total, Georgia committed some $3.3 billion to Hyundai and Rivian through various grants, tax credits, worker training, land and infrastructure.

Pat Wilson, the state’s commissioner of economic development, told the AJC the state has been engaged with SK on this project for more than six months.

The company sought to expand its U.S. manufacturing capacity. The Biden administration wants to expand battery production in the U.S., but much of the supply chain does not exist here and is dominated by China.

“We’re not producing enough batteries as it is in the United States,” Wilson said.

Wilson said SK and Hyundai will lean on the Technical College System of Georgia and Georgia’s Quick Start worker training program to help staff the future factory.

“Bartow is a metro county, one of the fastest growing in the state,” Wilson said. “It is in a good place to supply the workers they need.”