To prepare for the launch of the Santa Fe SUV in Alabama next year, Hyundai Motor Corp. used one of the newest tools in its worldwide arsenal - a simulated factory in Namyang, South Korea.
Hyundai sent 75 workers to Namyang from its Sonata plant in Montgomery, Ala., which started up in April.
Namyang has been the site of Hyundai's main research and development center since 1996. But this June, the center opened a separate pilot plant where Hyundai creates vehicle factory mock-ups for engineers and workers to debug manufacturing systems before they start in the real world.
The pilot plant includes a simulated Santa Fe body line, welding operation, paint shop and general assembly line. The setup allows line workers to move a practice vehicle from stamped parts through completion.
Hyundai's engineers are debugging the system to begin production first at Hyundai's Ulsan assembly plant in the coming weeks. That plant will supply the Santa Fe to markets in Asia and Europe.
Next spring, production of the SUV will start in Montgomery for the North American market. The Santa Fe and Sonata will use the same line and same tooling. And the vehicles will share the same 3.3-liter V-6 engine, which also is manufactured at the plant.
In Korea, the two vehicles are built at different assembly plants.
A Hyundai spokesman said Montgomery is producing about 1,100 Sonatas a day. Initially, all U.S. Sonata production was of the V-6 engine version using locally made V-6s. This summer, the plant also began producing Sonatas with four-cylinder engines that are imported from Korea.
The spokesman said the mix is running at abut 65 percent six-cylinder and 35 percent four-cylinder. He said there are no plans to manufacture the four-cylinder engine in the United States.