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<h2>FOCUS ON ENGINEERING: Hyundai grows in Michigan</h2>

Carmaker puts R&D here in industry's technical center

December 3, 2005
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The walls of the new Hyundai/Kia America Technical Center Inc. (HATCI) in Superior Township can be removed easily to allow for rapid expansion of the 200,000-square-foot facility.

They serve as a metaphor for Hyundai's designs on the North American market.

It is not coincidence that a South Korean transplant chose the cradle of American automotive manufacturing as home for its new research-and-development operations.

Two weeks after the Hyundai tech center opened, another overseas auto company broke ground on a research-and-development facility. German auto supplier Robert Bosch Corp. expects its tech center in Plymouth Township to open in 2007.

Investments like those by Hyundai and Bosch reaffirm Michigan as the epicenter of automotive research and development and defy the notion that Michigan is losing its luster as the automotive capital. The state might be decelerating as a manufacturing center, but it is conventional wisdom that, if you want to design and build cars in the United States, you have to be in Michigan.

Hyundai chose Michigan despite some lucrative opportunities in other states, including Alabama, where its lone U.S. manufacturing operation is.
"Michigan is really the center of the known universe as far as automotive research is concerned," said Robert Babcock, manager of corporate affairs for HATCI. "We looked at a lot of places but decided to stay here."

According to the Michigan Economic Development Corp., Michigan is home to more than 215 vehicle-related R&D centers. More than 67% of all North American auto-related R&D activity is conducted in Michigan, which ranks second only to Texas in terms of R&D investment.

Hyundai has had a research presence in Michigan since 1986 in Ann Arbor, where several other automakers and suppliers have engineering operations. The brains of the industry are here, even if the brawn is trickling away to the South and overseas.

MEDC CEO James Epolito says the hope is that, where the brain goes the rest will follow.

"It's really important that these companies plant here, partly for the high-paying jobs they employ," Epolito said. "When you establish an R&D presence here, hopefully you have a plant that follows. And they, in turn, spin off tier one and tier two suppliers."

Epolito sees the growth of auto technology in Michigan as the flip side of the declining manufacturing segment of the industry.

"We have this tale of woe about the manufacturing jobs we are losing, and, if that's the metric you're using to measure Michigan, then it's not too positive," Epolito said. "But, if you look at what you are going to transform into, that's the seed we're planting."

A major selling point for Michigan is the 5,000 engineers who graduate every year from Michigan colleges and universities. Add to that the growing pool of experienced white-collar workers in the market for jobs after being laid off by Michigan's native automakers.
The talent pool is "one of the main attractions to us staying in Michigan," Babcock said.

"We're fortunate we can be selective," said Babcock, who noted that Hyundai might receive as many as 1,000 resumes for certain positions. "We're growing while some other companies are contracting."

Flexing in more space

The new Hyundai/Kia America Technical Center replaces a 30,000-square-foot facility in nearby Pittsfield Township that lacked parking for workers, much less the space to accommodate more hires.

Hyundai moved into the new tech center with 100 more employees than the 40 it had at the old facility. Plans call for the company to add at least 260 more workers by the end of 2007. When it does that, it will become eligible for $22 million in tax credits that the state used to encourage Hyundai to stay rather than to relocate to Alabama.

The center is full of light, space and earth tones and stocked with state-of-the art design, testing and technology. It's an engineer's dream.

Features include a central service bay where engineers test, observe, put together and pull apart autos -- theirs and competitors'. The service bay is bracketed by testing labs for auto bodies and components on one side and powertrain labs on the other.

State-of-the-art dynamometers for engines and chassis allow engineers to test more engines under more driving conditions faster and more accurately. That translates into shorter, cheaper development. And that, Babcock says, should translate into more competitive vehicle pricing.

"In here we have more capability to perform the testing we should do to customize vehicles to the American market and make the best possible vehicle," engineer Todd Tischler said.

Tischler said the equipment and logical layout enable him to work on as many as 40 cars in a day in various stations in the center. "There's no way I could do that at the old building," he said.

Contact KIM NORRIS at 248-351-5186 or [email protected]


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SOmeone's got an interesting quote about that in their sig... Lutz is sweating! Good! That should force GM to make GOOD cars, like they once did...
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