The Automotive Industry: The Road To Everywhere

While we are still deep in the drive toward technical and autonomous, what’s old is new and what’s mine is yours when it comes to next year’s auto trends.

Auto Industry Revs Up In Southern Indiana

While the domestic auto industry came to a screeching halt early on during the global COVID-19 pandemic, these days it’s beginning to accelerate. From the third quarter of 2020 through the first quarter of 2021, automakers around the world have seen rapid (and in some cases, record) levels of production, according to a 2021 report issued by consulting firm McKinsey & Co. (How the Automotive Industry is Accelerating Out of the Turn).

automotive industry
Indiana Auto Plant associates use a lift assist device to install the hatchback on the all-new 2022 Honda Civic Hatchback. (Photo: American Honda Motor Co., Inc.)

That’s especially true in southern Indiana, home to two of the state’s five auto assembly plants and hundreds of Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers.

Since September, major announcements in the region indicate investment in the auto industry in the Hoosier State is pushing full speed ahead despite an ongoing global semiconductor chip shortage.

American Honda Motor Co. began production in September, as planned, of its all-new Civic Hatchback at its southeastern Indiana plant in Greensburg. Honda invested $50.2 million in the plant to prepare it for mass production of the 2022 hatchback version of the Civic.

Aisin Drivetrain Inc., a Japan-based manufacturer of automotive and heavy equipment parts, announced plans in September to expand its Jackson County operations, creating up to 141 new jobs by the end of 2024. The expansion will support Aisin’s initiative to accelerate the electrification of vehicles. Since 2008, ADI has invested nearly $96 million into its Indiana operations.

TS Tech, a major supplier of automotive seats for Honda and others, is doubling the size of its Henry County facility in New Castle, IN to 412,500 square feet, adding 42 jobs to its 500+ workforce. The expansion represents a $19.1 million capital investment, with $10 million going toward new and/or upgraded advanced manufacturing equipment.

Indiana’s supportive environment is one of the reasons the state ranks No. 2 in the United States in overall automotive production with more than 1.3 million cars and trucks rolling off Hoosier assembly lines annually. The Honda plant alone in Greensburg has the capacity to produce 250,000 cars and light trucks annually at the 2.4 million square-foot facility.

Global giants such as Honda call Indiana home thanks in large part to generations of highly skilled workers and the support they receive from the local community. The Indiana Auto Plant (IAP) started out building the Honda Civic in 2008, and was the first U.S. plant to build the Honda Insight, Acura ILX and CR-V Hybrid.

“When Honda came in in 2008, the country was in the middle of an economic recession. The fact that they chose southeastern Indiana and their long-lasting success here indicates how much support this region provides to meet their needs,” says Bryan Robbins, Executive Director of the Economic Development Corp. of Greensburg/Decatur County.

While the rest of the nation may be experiencing labor shortages, the Greensburg area’s strong economy is bucking national trends. The area’s low 2.8 percent unemployment rate is indicative of the area’s ability to recruit, train and retain a skilled workforce. “Honda is big part of that,” Robbins added.

Honda’s $50.2 million investment in the Greensburg plant included a building expansion for laser braze technology for the roof of the Civic Hatchback. Other new processes include a major increase in the use of high-performance structural adhesives for improved body rigidity, and the application of acoustic spray foam to the Civic body structure for enhanced cabin quietness. The factory employs 2,700 workers and has produced more than 2 million vehicles since 2008.

“The level of technology that Honda demands is outstanding. Being able to handle those kinds of advancements, from plant design to the ability of our local utility providers to give them what they need, makes investments such as this a reality,” Robbins said.

Hoosier Energy, one of the state’s largest cooperative energy suppliers, and its 18-member electric distribution systems work together to ensure the electrical infrastructure is in place to fuel expansions for energy intensive industries.

Electric provider Decatur County REMC, one of Hoosier Energy’s 18 member systems, takes pride in the collaborative work relationship the co-op has with the automaker.

“Decatur County REMC and Hoosier Energy worked diligently to meet the unique needs of Honda Manufacturing of Indiana,” said Brett Abplanalp, CEO, Decatur County REMC. “We also work to help identify ways to improve efficiency and environmental initiatives that benefit the members we serve.”

“Our member systems understand how important power quality, reliability and energy efficiency are to their industrial customers’ bottom line. Cooperative engineers work with companies like Honda and TS Tech every day. We’re all in this together. It’s this collaborative partnership that contributes to the success of these businesses, and ultimately the success of our communities,” said Harold Gutzwiller, Manager of Economic Development, Hoosier Energy.

More than 500 auto supply chain manufacturers support the industry in the state, producing everything from drive trains to electric vehicle components to a comfy seat. With increasing focus on the importance of the supply chain these days, the success of Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers keeps the industry moving.

“We’re proud to be the home of TS Tech and their expansion as they represent a Japanese-owned Tier One automotive supplier,” said Corey Murphy, President of the New Castle Henry County Economic Development Corp.

“We helped them set themselves up for expansion when they first arrived in 2007, even though it was in the middle of a national recession,” Murphy continued. “It’s great to see that actually occur, knowing the infrastructure is in place to help them expand as they grow their customer base. Automotive manufacturing, while different from the past, is flourishing in our region.”