SYLACAUGA, Ala. – From the deserts of the Middle East to urban centers across Asia and villages dotting the European countryside, vehicles made in Alabama are making a lasting impression.

Exports of state-made automobiles continued to grow at an impressive rate in 2016, rising 13 percent to $7.9 billion. So far this year, the numbers are holding steady with last year’s pace.

The top export market for Alabama-made vehicles in 2016 was Germany, with more than $2.4 billion in shipments. Rounding out the top 10 were China, Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, Australia, South Korea, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, and India.

In all, state-built models were shipped to 86 countries.

Mercedes-Benz’s Alabama factory has been an exporting powerhouse since it began production in 1997. (Contributed)

“Around the world, demand is climbing for vehicles produced by the skilled hands of Alabama’s auto workers,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “The industry also continues to grow here at home, with more than $1 billion in new investment and more than 4,000 jobs announced since the beginning of 2016.”

The Mercedes-Benz factory in Tuscaloosa County has long been the state’s top exporter overall, but Honda Manufacturing of Alabama’s Talladega County operation (HMA) is increasing its exports, too, said Hilda Lockhart, director of the Department of Commerce’s Office of International Trade.

Earlier this year, HMA was one of eight Alabama companies honored with a 2017 Governor’s Trade Excellence Award for achievements in exporting goods and services around the world.

The company exports its Alabama-built vehicles to approximately 45 countries, logging more than $1 billion in export sales in 2015.

Hyundai Motor Manufacturing of Alabama also exports a small portion of its Montgomery-made models, mainly to Canada.

Lockhart cited several countries that had seen significant jumps in Alabama-made vehicle exports last year, as well as the factors that could be driving those trends.

“Vietnam (+70 percent) has a very large up and coming young population with an increase of income, Saudi Arabia (+65 percent) has been the largest importer of autos for the U.S. in that region and Kuwait (+125 percent) seems to be continuing an upward trend since it remains a country with a lot of wealth,” she said.

Honda’s foreign markets

As for Honda, the company’s Alabama operation has seen continued, positive growth in its export market since the recovery from the global economic crisis several years ago, said Mike Oatridge, HMA vice president.

“But this most recent boost to our export sales can be attributed to the very positive response from both the domestic and international markets to the Acura MDX luxury sport utility vehicle and the introduction of the all-new 2016 Pilot SUV, which debuted in the spring of 2015,” he said.

The most popular markets for Honda’s Alabama-made vehicles can change from year to year, based on regional and global economic conditions, Oatridge continued. The plant’s exports of particular products are also limited because it only produces left-hand-drive vehicles.

Honda launched mass production of the redesigned 2016 Pilot SUV on May 21, 2015. The vehicle has contributed to a significant increase in exports of Honda’s Alabama-made automobiles. (Contributed)

“So you don’t see our products exported to Great Britain or Japan. Markets are also limited due to the large size of each of our products – there are countries where large vehicles just are not in demand, sometimes due to fuel costs and sometimes due to narrow streets and roads,” he said.

“But the most popular markets for our products are certainly Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, South Korea and the Middle East. In fact, when the first Acura dealership opened in Dubai, the Alabama-built Acura MDX was the only Acura product sold there for several months.”

HMA is the global production source of the Pilot, as well as Honda’s Odyssey minivan and Ridgeline pickup. Earlier this year, the plant began sharing production of the MDX with Honda’s East Liberty Plant in Ohio.

“Typically, HMA averages that about 8 to 10 percent of our production is allocated for global export, but this figure is very fluid due to fluctuations in the global economy,” Oatridge said. “Later this year, full production of the MDX will transfer to East Liberty, so we will experience a slight decline in our overall exports.”

Exporting milestones

Alabama’s overall exports surged to a record level in 2016, topping $20 billion for the first time.

Transportation equipment, which includes vehicles and automotive parts as well as aerospace products, remained the No. 1 export category, with nearly $10.7 billion in shipments.

Other key export categories include chemicals, primary metals, paper products and machinery.

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.

Jerry Underwood for Made in Alabama | © 2017, alabamanewscenter.com

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