Kentucky Is Leader in Auto Innovation
Toyota, Ford and General Motors and a cadre of suppliers have made Kentucky a hub of advanced auto manufacturing.
Kentucky is in the driver’s seat to build the next generation of vehicles and develop the new technology that will power them.
Long a center of automotive manufacturing, the Bluegrass State was a natural location for a joint federal and state battery manufacturing research center that will help develop and commercialize power applications for advanced vehicles, including hybrids. The effort will support President Obama’s goal of having 1 million plug-in, hybrid, electric vehicles on the road by 2015.
New Research Center in Lexington
Argonne, the nation’s lead facility for transportation-related research, is partnering with the Commonwealth, University of Kentucky and University of Louisville to establish the center in Lexington. The Kentucky-Argonne Battery Manufacturing Research and Development Center will facilitate the development of advanced lithium-ion batteries and advanced manufacturing technologies that will reduce battery production costs. The center also will promote collaborations between federal labs, universities, manufacturers, suppliers and end-users, and accelerate the movement of technologies developed at national labs and universities into the marketplace.
Initial research will focus on developing and testing lithium-ion batteries, asymmetric capacitors and other advanced electrochemical energy storage systems. The center, which received approval in December 2009, for state funding of up to $3.5 million, will leverage the extensive research facilities and expertise of UK and UofL.
“The center will help greatly increase the amount of federal and private research dollars coming to Kentucky and will lead to additional high-paying, high-tech jobs,” says Larry Hayes, secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development.
Auto Industry Expansions in Kentucky
Other innovations in the automotive sector can be found across Kentucky. Hitachi Automotive Products (USA) Inc., a fixture in the state since 1986, is adding an advanced fuel system production line at its 400,000-square-foot facility in Harrodsburg, where the company manufactures electromechanical auto parts. The $20.2 million expansion will add 100 new jobs to make components for use in advanced direct injection fuel systems in more fuel-efficient and lower-emission automobile engines.
Hitachi is among the 420 auto-related facilities and suppliers in Kentucky that employ more than 65,000 workers. Toyota, Ford and General Motors each have substantial operations in Kentucky, which is third among states in light vehicle production.
Industry analysts point out that Kentucky remains attractive to automakers for a number of reasons, including its central location and availability of low-cost power – the fourth lowest in the nation.
“It’s quite amazing how low the energy costs are that Kentucky can provide for these facilities,” says Greg Higdon, president and CEO of the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers.
Ford, a fixture in Kentucky since 1912, has two assembly operations in the Louisville area. The automaker has outlined plans for a major retooling and reinvestment in Louisville, a project that could cost up to $600 million and make the plant capable of assembling multiple types of fuel-efficient vehicles.
Since 1981, General Motors has manufactured its iconic Corvette in Bowling Green, the only location where the car is produced.
In Georgetown, the Toyota plant that began operations in the fall of 1988 has become the automaker’s largest North American facility. The plant produces the Camry and Avalon sedans, Venza crossover and Camry hybrid. Toyota has invested $5.3 billion in recent upgrades in its Georgetown operations.
“We became Toyota’s first plant outside of Japan to build a hybrid product – a high-end Camry that features the absolute latest in technology,” says Rick Hesterberg, assistant manager for external affairs in Georgetown.
A total of 6,600 full-time employees work at the massive facility, while another 1,300 work at the automaker’s Erlanger headquarters near the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport. The Georgetown plant has the capacity to build 500,000 engines each year plus parts for other Toyota facilities throughout the U.S.
“We have 90 direct suppliers in Kentucky and provide them with $2 billion in business annually,” Hesterberg says.