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HMG Metaplant taking shape larger than first announced
Eric Johnson, project manager with Savannah Joint Development Authority, left, chats with Hyundai Motor Group Metaplant America Head of Plant Engineering Jumbo Park during a tour of the plant going up in Ellabell Wednesday.
Eric Johnson, project manager with Savannah Joint Development Authority, left, chats with Hyundai Motor Group Metaplant America Head of Plant Engineering Jumbo Park during a tour of the plant going up in Ellabell Wednesday. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

One year after the ceremonial groundbreaking, Hyundai Motor Group managers and area development officials gave news reporters and camera people a closer look at the sprawling Metaplant America construction site, which is partially visible from Interstate 16 in northern Bryan County.

Pairing an HMG factory for manufacturing electric vehicles under its Hyundai, Kia, Genesis and Ioniq labels and an LG Energy Solution plant for making the batteries, the complex is now projected to employ, eventually, 8,500 people on-site. Additionally, parts suppliers building factories in the region – including some in Bulloch County – expect to employ almost 6,000 more workers. So Hyundai Motor Group now projects that the Metaplant and off-site suppliers together will create a total of 14,476 jobs at full production.

HMG Metaplant America CEO and President Oscar Kwon spoke to the tour group Wednesday, Oct. 25, in a conference room in a temporary office structure before a bus carried the media visitors – who donned hardhats and high-visibility vests – farther into the almost 3,000-acre work site.

“We are on track to start production in early 2025, or as my boss, Josè Muñoz, likes to say, ‘if not sooner,’” Kwon said.

Exactly one year earlier, Muñoz, who is Hyundai Motor North America president and CEO, had attended the groundbreaking ceremony, as did world Hyundai Motor Group Executive Chair Euisun Chung, turning ceremonial shovels and raising a toast with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.

Those ranking dignitaries didn’t return for the anniversary tour, but Kwon, who is from South Korea and has worked for Hyundai Motor Group since 1992, is the Metaplant’s own chief executive, with an office on site.


One-year contrast

Twelve months before, buses had brought media and other attendees from Savannah to a big, fancy climate-controlled tent for the ceremony.

From U.S. Highway 280, the tent was down a road that becomes a dirt lane and passes through a scrappy stand of trees. Now the Georgia Department of Transportation has temporary traffic signals on the highway for the trucks that roll in constantly loaded with construction material, and the tent has been replaced by contractor trailers.

From there, the bus took the visitors past steel frameworks of several large buildings, wider and longer than tall, but still several stories high. Some of the buildings have exterior walls in place. The structures taking shape within sight of I-16 included the paint application building, to the west, and the final assembly building, to the east.


I-16 ‘showcase’

The elevated bridge-like structures between these buildings will support conveyor belts carrying vehicles toward completion. This passage will be lit, in two parallel lines, to be visible from the interstate highway as part of a kilometer-long factory façade, said Jumbo Park, HMG’s head of engineering for the Metaplant.

“The conveyor belt carrying the vehicles from the painting shop to the assembly shop will be visible through the glass … showcasing to the public what our factory looks like inside,” he said.

Park described – and the company issued a press released to emphasize – aspects of the HMG complex designed to make it a “smart plant,” welcoming to employees and visitors, and clean and energy-efficient.

HMG has deployed these features at a smaller plant in Singapore, Park said, but this will be the first of its kind in the United States and much larger.

An exhibition hall to go at the front of the plant has been designed like a square to pay homage to the historic squares in downtown Savannah, the company announced. The building will be an exhibition space with its own central courtyard and water features.


Light from above

Production areas will have “respite zones” with skylights to let in natural light at the center of the building and can be used for employee breaks and meetings. A 41-acre ecological park in front of the plant will include trails, running tracks, environmental art displays, sports fields, picnic areas and a pond, “all for employees to enjoy before or after work,” according to the media release.

A “solar parking lot” is expected to provide 5.2 megawatts of electric power. The solar panels will be positioned over the top of the 1,878 vehicle spots to protect the vehicles from direct sun while also generating power.

Beginning with the start of mass production, the electricity used to power the Metaplant will come from 100 percent renewable sources, the company asserts, aligning with Hyundai’s commitment to be “carbon neutral” by 2045.


Over $9 billion

One year ago, only the HMG plant had been officially announced, with an original projection that 8,100 people would be employed there after a $5.5 billion investment. But the addition of the battery plant in Hyundai’s joint venture with LG, announced in September, adds 400 expected jobs and boosts the total expected investment to $7.59 billion, noted Savannah Economic Development Authority, or SEDA, President and CEO Trip Tollison.

“Suppliers, to date, represent $2.2 billion in investment in nine different counties,” Tollison said.

So that adds up to more than $9 billion investment in the region.

The Metaplant’s announced production of 300,000 electric vehicles a year would be expandable to 500,000 a year if demand supports it, he said.

SEDA and development authorities in Bulloch, Bryan and Effingham counties participate in the Savannah Harbor-Interstate 16 Corridor Joint Development Authority, or JDA, which together with the state of Georgia purchased and provided the site.


Construction progress

Currently, about 2,000 construction workers are employed there.

As of Wednesday, foundation work on all of the direct Hyundai Motor Group buildings was 99.9% complete, and an estimated 81% of steel framing had been installed, using 27,045 tons of steel, the company reported.

Tollison noted that, although the company started clearing ground Aug. 1, 2022, actual construction did not begin until January.

Construction on the LG battery plant is only beginning and is expected to take about a year longer, he said.

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