Toyota Alabama Steps Closer to Increased Engine Production

Toyota Alabama achieved two significant milestones this month as part of its $288 million expansion announced in March 2019.

Upon completion in 2021, the plant will add 450 jobs and represent a $1.2 billion investment that solidifies the Huntsville facility as the automaker’s largest engine producer in North America. 

Milestones include the start of production for the all-new, redesigned 4-cylinder engine, and the closing in of the plant’s 150,000 square-foot V6 engine assembly line. 

“These milestones represent significant achievements and further demonstrate Toyota’s long-term commitment to build where we sell,” said Dave Finch, Toyota Alabama president. “By boosting production capacity and flexibility, our dedicated work force can better serve customers and position our operations for stability and future success.” 

Toyota Alabama supplies engines for one-third of all Toyota vehicles assembled in the U.S. The latest expansion is the plant’s fifth since it began engine production in 2003; annual engine capacity will increase 34 percent to 900,000 and total employment will top 1,800. 

This investment is part of a broader commitment from Toyota to invest $13 billion in its U.S. operations over a five-year period through 2021. To date, Toyota has committed nearly $9 billion of the announced total; cumulative direct investment in the U.S. exceeds $28.4 billion

Auto Dealerships Driven to Survive During an Economic Storm

There is an old adage that says what doesn’t destroy us, makes us stronger.

Deemed an essential business by Gov. Kay Ivey, car dealerships and their service departments have been steadfast in making the best of a bad situation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most of them have cut hours of operation; they have had to make a variety of adjustments to their daily operations; and they have been steadfast about finding ways to keep their employees working, whether with the help of the Paycheck Protection Program or by sheer will.

All of them reported a drop in car sales in the early days of the shutdown, but their resilience is paying off as most are reporting a rebound.

The Huntsville Business Journal checked in with several car dealerships to find out what it has been like riding out a pandemic in the midst of a massive economic storm, while most of their customers are sheltered at home. Their flexibility, adaptability and entrepreneurial spirits truly stand out!

Landers McLarty Automotive Group

Frank Williams, Executive Manager and Managing Partner of Landers McLarty Automotive Group, said they have an incredible business, so he feels they have an obligation to the community, their customers, and their employees to make whatever adjustments are needed to support them.

“I have focused more on how as a community leader, we can sustain the livelihood of our employees and protect their well-being,” Williams said. “It’s been an adjustment, but it makes you think about priorities which brings you closer to your employees, closer to your family, and it makes you look instead at the positives while forcing you to prioritize. If we do that, we will come out on the right side of this.”

Yes business has been off about 40 percent but he doesn’t look at it from a profit and loss perspective.

“Technology lets us create platforms that provide what the customers want, as opposed to what we want, and that is a plus,” he said. “I don’t focus on the negative. I am using the situation to look for ways to do business better for our consumers, and technology has allowed us to do that.”

If a customer doesn’t want to come into the dealership, they have a social distancing tent set up outside,” Williams said. “If they want to do it all online, they have created another platform for that. If a customer doesn’t want to leave home, they implemented a pick-up and delivery service to support that.

“Everybody is being hurt so looking at it from a profit and loss standpoint isn’t as important as what we do to adjust our cleaning so people feel comfortable coming to work; and making sure our actions as leaders help sustain people and their families.

“The national media focuses on the losses, but we have not made a single cut. We see a lot of positives with our employees stepping up. We want everybody to be happy and I think we have created what will be a new way of doing business.”

Ray Pearman Lincoln  

“We are open every day and we have not had a single layoff,” said Paige Pearman-Sandlin, general manager at Ray Pearman Lincoln. “We saw a dip in car sales to about half what we normally see, but people are still out looking; our service department has remained steady; and we have seen an uptick in the number of people setting appointments to see or test drive a vehicle, as opposed to just dropping by.”

Ray Pearman Lincoln practices safe pickup and delivery. (Photo/Paige Pearman Sandlin)

She said the changes the dealership has made operationally have not been substantially disruptive.

“Some people are wearing masks, but not everybody; and our employees are ready to put one on if the customer is wearing one or inquires about I,” she said. “We are not shaking hands and we have propped open all the doors, so no one has to turn a doorknob. We are very cautious about common touchpoints and we have a company who comes out and spray disinfects the building while our employees are constantly cleaning and sanitizing their work areas.”

She said they can set up virtual test drives but if a customer wants to physically drive the car, they can do so alone. If they request a sales rep, everyone wears masks and gloves.

They also have a designated pick-up and delivery driver who wears disposable gloves, and they wrap the steering wheel. They put the keys in a velvet bag and leave them for the owner so there is no direct contact.

“We were actually ready for the shutdown in terms of being able to process a lot of the car buying steps online since we have been doing that for a while, but I think this has helped us get better at it,” said Sandlin.

Lexus of Huntsville

“Lexus of Huntsville has not only remained open through the entire shutdown, but we have maintained our full hours in both car sales and in our service department,” said Dennis Davis, managing director of the dealership. “Our service department waiting room is open and we are in full compliance with social distancing requirements as set by CDC guidelines.”

Davis said they originally furloughed only two employees, but they called both back when businesses across the board reopened May 19.

“Compared to the weeks or months before COVID hit in mid-March, car sales were off somewhat, but the good news is because Lexus was quick to cut interest rates to 0 percent for the first time in recent history on some models, with others offering six months of no payments, it is the an excellent time to buy that new or certified pre-owned vehicle,” said Davis.

He also said if people are hesitant about taking test drives, he guarantees all cars are disinfected before and after each test drive, and they are using steering wheel covers to prevent any spread of the virus or other germs.

“Our main focus throughout this situation has been to keep customers and employees as safe as possible by following the guidelines set by the CDC.”

Bill Penney Automotive Group

“Prior to March 16, Bill Penney Toyota was having record, record month – such a great month it was unbelievable,” said Hunter Johnson, general manager at Bill Penney Toyota. “On March 16, we started hearing rumblings something is about to happen and when the NBA shut down, it hit us hard. Car sales dropped 30 to 40 percent.”

Unwilling to let dread settle in on their employees and thinking the safest thing was not to have as many people in every department, Johnson and owner Zach Penney pulled the leadership team together and produced a video for all 250 employees. They took the store to half-staff with no one laid off, staggering everyone three days on and four days off.

“The first 2 weeks of April, business went down almost 70 percent, but we manufactured jobs for our employees doing everything from cleaning and sanitizing to doing work around the store we had been putting off like painting and home improvements.

“Since reopening May 4, we brought everyone back on … we have done really well and getting close to normalcy,” he said. “Our used car department in April had the best April in 56 years, and where the ratio of new to used cars is usually 7 to 1, it is now 1 to 1.”

They have also been there to help the public and to respond to customer calls. Throughout the crisis, the dealership has been going to customer homes to pick up the cars, even if all they needed was an oil change, and delivered it back to them following CDC guidelines for social distancing, wearing gloves and covering the steering wheel. This popular valet service will become part of regular business going forward,

The dealership uses a Quickpage system consisting of a video and a taped virtual test drive. If customers still want to test drive it themselves, the staff wipes it down, adds covers to the steering wheel and delivers it to the customer for 24 hours.

“We are also doing ‘payment distancing’. Toyota is offering zero percent financing with no payment for six months and people are taking advantage of it,” said Johnson. “We have always sold cars online, but we are taking it a step forward and emailing paperwork with e-contracting, which will cut hours off the car buying process.”

Smith Infinity

Justin Smith, executive manager for Smith Infinity, said April was nonexistent in terms of new car sales but used cars and the parts and service department have kept the wheels rolling through the entire shutdown. Ironically, his father’s dealership, Jimmy Smith Buick GMC in Athens, was selling so many cars they were close to running out of inventory.

“The imports were slower pushing out special financing than the domestics and I think that has been the difference, but I admit we were down a lot more than I expected going into this,” he said. “Our parts and service department has remained steady at around 75 percent and while they have carried us through April, we have sold more cars between the first and 15th of May than we did the whole month of April, and we are beginning to start seeing some traffic again.”

He said adjusting to sales in the time of COVID has been somewhat strange. The instinct is to see someone on the lot looking and to approach them with a handshake, but his sales staff is learning to adjust to how to approach people. He said many people, especially those wearing masks do not want to come inside and they are all social distancing, so it has been a challenge.

“It is sometimes hard to do business that way, but I think once people hear from the government that they have this thing under control that will change,” he said. “I have to say though that traffic has been twice as heavy the first two weeks of May than it was the entire month of April.”

On a lighter note, Smith said he feels like he is back in college with all the daily webinars.

“I sit in on webinars sometimes it seems all day,” he laughs. “The NADA (National Automobile Dealers Association), the ADAA (Automobile Dealers Association of Alabama), Infinity keeping us up-to-date on their rollouts, and even a webinar from an accounting firm teaching us the PPP.

Century Automotive Group

Century Automotive has remained open throughout the pandemic but owners George and Tracy Jones immediately put a plan in place to protect their customers and employees.

“Our main company objectives during this time was keeping everyone safe and allowing our employees to be able to work and support their families,” said George Jones. “Several of our employees’ main responsibility is sanitizing the facilities hourly; and everyone is enforcing social distancing in their day-to-day business dealings and meetings.

He said several employees chose not to work, and they supported their request for time off, and they have also adjusted hours and implemented split crews for most of their departments.

“We adjusted our test drive options based on customer preference and take vehicles to our customers house and allowed them to drive without a sales consultant in many cases,” Jones said. “We also offered pick-up and delivery for our service customers who weren’t comfortable coming into the dealership.”

He said their sales volume was only down 10 percent in April, but for the most part, business was back to normal in May.

“We are fully staffed and back to our normal business hours, however we realize we must continue to sanitize and continue social distancing,” he said.

“I’m grateful to our customers who have supported us during this time. We are a small, locally owned family business celebrating our 50th year. I’m grateful for our employees who have maintained positive attitudes throughout this crisis, and we will continue to take great care of our company and customers.”

Jerry Damson Automotive Group

Ben Boles, director of digital media for the Jerry Damson Automotive Group, said that from the day Ivey put the stay at home order in place but deemed automotive dealerships and their service departments essential, they developed a governing philosophy surrounding how to keep their employees and customers safe.

“We adopted procedures and protocols to make sure we were compliant not just with state guidelines, but really, with Damson family guidelines,” Boles said. “The family took it seriously, took it to heart, and understood their role in society. If we are judged an essential business, then it is essential our business be leader in the community.

He said they were committed to accommodating whatever their customers needed and will do whatever it takes to make it work for them.

“Our waiting room is open and we have a spacious new building, so we spread out the furniture to make it safe and comfortable. If you prefer, we pick up your vehicle and deliver it back to you. That is fine too,” he said. “We were very quick to adopt high sanitation standards that include gloves, coverings, contactless servicing of your car, and we amended the way we did test drives. We practice social distancing and wear masks when necessary.”

He credits the Damson clean up shop as the unsung heroes of the coronavirus shutdown because they get every car, including used cars, sanitized and they have created a new definition of a frontline-ready used car.

“We have been able to stay open all the days we are usually open and that keeps our employees working, but we did scale back our hours a little because there has been less foot traffic,” Boles said. “We’ve had a lot of change but thankfully as the economy has started reopening, things are looking up.

“People are coming out and looking and they are serious too, definitely here to buy a car!”


Mazda Toyota Manufacturing Revs Up Hiring, Shows Off Post-COVID Assessment Center & Interview Process

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing kept its motor running throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, hiring 100 employees in April.

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing has implemented COVID-19 guidelines to protect employees. (Photo courtesy Mazda Toyota Manufacturing)

They auto plant kicked things into second gear May 11 by restarting the hiring process with job interviews and skills assessments at the MTM/AIDT Assessment Center at 7262 Governors Drive West, Suite 203, near Bridge Street Towne Center.

Mazda Toyota reopened its assessment center at 50 percent capacity, retrofitted the process with enhanced safety measures that focus on the safety and wellbeing of their employees, business partners, and members of the community.

“Mazda Toyota Manufacturing maintains the safety and wellbeing of our team members, business partners and community at top of mind,” said Toni Eberhart, head of corporate communications for Mazda Toyota Manufacturing. “Though COVID-19 has presented many unprecedented challenges, we take pride in the collaboration and thoughtful decision making of our team to implement enhanced safety measures. It has enabled us to make continued progress toward our start of production in 2021.

“In April and May, we onboarded 144 new employees which represents about 25 percent of our workforce and we look forward to opening opportunities to join our team this year.”

Mayor Tommy Battle and other city leaders toured the facility Thursday to see the new conditions and hiring process.

“MTM is developing​ a core workforce that will manage over 4,000 workers and provide for the economy of North Alabama for years to come,” Battle said. “They have a science to building this foundation and it’s very impressive.”

The changes they saw in action include temperature checks, social distancing, mandatory face coverings, and a heightened sanitation schedule for the facility. The plant has also put some distance between the candidates and the interview staff to meet social distancing standards.

In addition to gearing up the hiring process, MTM announced several milestones in the construction of the 3.7 million square-foot state of the art facility.

As of May 7, the roof and floor slabs are 100 percent complete; the siding and fire protection is 99 percent complete; the piping and ductwork is at 90 percent completion; and the electrical is 75 percent finished.

Currently, MTM has about 500 employees ranging from professional and administrative staff, to engineers, production workers, and a skilled maintenance team.

Q&A with Sen. Doug Jones: Tariffs and Global Trade


U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) recently sat down with the Huntsville Business Journal and discussed several issues important to our state and nation. This is the third installment of five reports from the interview. Today’s topic is international trade and tariffs.

HBJ: Let’s talk about Alabama and where it fits in global trade.

Sen. Jones: Alabama is an exporting state. You know, after NAFTA came into being, Alabama got hurt pretty bad. But, we’ve done such an amazing job of adapting and a part of that was with the automobile manufacturers that started coming into the state.

Sen. Jones: “Twenty-five percent tariffs on automobiles would be devastating and just not functional.” (Photo/Steve Babin)

But, Alabama really has got partners all over the world. It’s amazing what we export now.

It’s an exporting state. We need to make sure that with our trading partners, that we have good agreements with them … That’s been a challenge, I think, over the last couple of years.

HBJ: Tell me about the tariffs and what industries are affected.

Sen. Jones: You know, there are two different things.

First of all, you’ve got tariffs that are proposed for automobiles. Fortunately, we’ve got a trade agreement with Japan now. So, Toyota and Honda are fairly safe. But, Mercedes has still got a potential issue out there; Hyundai still has potential issues out there.

Twenty-five percent tariffs on automobiles would be devastating and just not functional. The president has done this under some guise of national security but yet he won’t release the report that the Commerce Department did to determine whether or not they’re a national security threat.

Throughout this, several senators in a bipartisan way have been working with me: Sen. (Lamar) Alexander (R) from Tennessee, Sen. (Rob) Portman (R) from Ohio.

We’ve had different bills pending to try to get at the bottom of these automobile tariffs. In fact, this past year, Sen. (Pat) Toomey (R-Pa.) and I had an amendment in the budget process, the appropriations process, whereby the administration was required to release that to us by the middle of January.

Of course, they have not done that. So, we still don’t know what that is.

What we’ve seen is steel and aluminum imports have caused the cost of goods and services to go up. That was a boom for Alabama steelmakers for a little bit, but now with prices that way, everybody’s feeling some pain.

The other thing: the retaliatory tariffs have been what’s been devastating to farmers. When China started cutting off soybeans and other products, it really has affected so many farmers in this state.

Now, we have a first step agreement with China. I think the jury is still out as to whether or not that’s really going to be a favorable deal, or one that keeps the status quo, which is not that good.

I’d like to think it’s going to be a good deal ultimately for folks, but there’s still another deal yet to be had.

What I’m seeing right now is that we are now getting into the political dynamics with trade and everything is just kind of on hold until after the election.

The president has quit beating the trade “drums” as loud as he gets closer and closer to November.

HBJ: So, the tariffs affect not only steel, but agricultural exports, as well?

Sen. Jones: Yep, absolutely. They’ve had serious issues with soybeans, but it’s affected agriculture across the board.

Sen. Jones: “My biggest problem with the way the administration has handled trade is that we’ve gone it alone.” (Photo/Steve Babin)

If you talk to the folks down in the Port of Mobile, they will tell you the exports are down so much in agricultural goods. And hopefully, that’s going to come back.

And we’ve got issues down in Mobile, too with Airbus. The president is still talking about tariffs on exports, imports from Europe which could affect the Airbus and the airplane industry down there.

We’ve had to go through and seek exemptions for – I can’t tell you know how many companies. And we’ve been pretty successful at it in the office, where we’ve been able to carve out exemptions, but that’s just not the way to run trade.

When you announce these big policies and then you start chipping away, what that means is that the administration is picking winners and losers in the industry. And that’s just not good.

We need to try to break down some barriers and try to make sure we’ve got good trade, deal with countries like China, but do it in a fair way.

My biggest problem with the way the administration has handled trade is that we’ve gone it alone.

We started kicking all of our friends in the shins, we started going after Canada, we started going after Europe, we started going after China. We ended up going at China alone when we could have done some deals with our allies and then all gone in there together, because now they’re all getting separate deals.

I think we could have gotten a better deal had we all worked together.

Now having said all that, I voted for the United States-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) deal. I think that’s a pretty good deal for Alabama. The automobile dealers had a little bit of question about it all, but overall I think updating NAFTA was a good thing. And it was something that needed to be done.

What I think is really good about that though, that this deal is that once it got to the House of Representatives, the House made it better than what it was.

They made it better in the form of labor protections and in environmental protections. Much better than what the president sent over there; that’s what got it across the finish line, was the House of Representatives making it better.

(Monday: Sen. Jones discusses defense spending and border security)

Navistar Revving Up Engine Production in Huntsville with $125 Million Expansion

The shovels dug deeply into wet but fertile ground as Navistar officially broke ground this week on a 50-acre, $125 million expansion of its manufacturing facilities in the Jetplex Industrial Park in Huntsville.

Ground was broken for the ground-breaking $125 million Navistar expansion. (Photo/Kimberly Ballard)

The build-out will drive Navistar’s total Huntsville footprint to 80 acres and add 110,000 square feet to its 300,000 square-foot plant. It will also add 145 skilled manufacturing jobs to build next-generation, big-bore powertrains.

“Over the past two decades, the city of Huntsville has been a valuable partner and we are eager to expand our presence here,” said Persio Lisboa, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Navistar. “The local skilled workforce has proudly supported the implementation of our product strategy, and we look forward to incorporating some of the most advanced manufacturing standards into our Navistar Diesel of Alabama facility to continue to bring best-in-class products to the market.”

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle tied Navistar’s truck engine production here to the rocket engines under development just a few miles away’

“Our skilled manufacturing workforce is ready to take on the production of Navistar’s global powertrain, adding capacity to Huntsville’s reputation as the ‘propulsion capital’ of the world,” he said. “Whether it’s across the country or across the universe, Huntsville gets you there.”

Already using the latest state-of-the-art technology, the company will implement a “manufacturing 4.0 strategy” in the plant.

Next-level software and assembly lines will drive everything from receiving components to delivery to the customers, revving up production while giving them more control over that production.

Navistar’s A26 engine is built in Huntsville. (Photo/Kimberly Ballard)

Navistar’s principal engine built in Huntsville is the International A26 – a 12.4-liter big-bore engine. The current 300,000 square feet of manufacturing space is dedicated to the A26 engine.

Navistar will use the additional space to produce next-generation big-bore powertrains developed with its global alliance partner Traton.

According to Brandon Tucker, Director of Operations, Navistar has built more than 1 million engines in Huntsville over the past 20 years.

“It’s easy to say one million engines, but if you step back and think about that – it’s a lot of engines,” he said. “It’s a lot of parts. It’s a lot of overtime. It’s a lot of work fixing problems. It’s a lot of hard work.

“Engines are what makes us great, it’s what gives us the competitive advantage … so this is really about a big job, well done.”

Tucker said it is also about business continuation.

“It’s a line in the sand, a jumping off point for big things to come,” he said. “Like any industry, we ride the tide of ebb and flow … but today it is time to focus on the future.”

He said things will move quickly on the new building with center office construction starting in March, site work and grading should begin by spring with core construction expected to start by midsummer. It is slated for completion the first half of 2023.

“Jetplex Industrial Park at Huntsville International Airport is proud to be home to Navistar,” said Rick Tucker, CEO of the Port of Huntsville. “Having been a corporate partner of theirs for over two decades, it means a lot to us that they would desire to continue to grow both the facility and their relationship with us.

“I’m certain that we will all work together to continue to propel Alabama forward.”

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing – Now Hiring

If you are looking for a new career, mark your calendar for Jan. 13.

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing will begin hiring opportunities Jan. 13 for production workers at the company’s 3.7 million square foot plant in Huntsville, the automaker and AIDT announced.

When completed, the 3.7 million square foot facility will produce 300,000 vehicles per year. (MTMUS rendering)

Production team members represent the largest percentage of the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing workforce. They will be responsible for the hands-on assembly of the 300,000 vehicles a year.

The first hiring phase of production team members will open Jan. 13 and continue on a rolling basis through 2022. Some 4,000 workers are expected to be hired at the plant, the only one in the world with combined Mazda and Toyota manufacturing.

Applicants will begin online at where they will provide basic contact information, work history, and answer a few questions. Applicants who meet hiring criteria are then invited to take an online assessment, which includes a written portion.

Candidates who advance beyond the online assessment will then be invited to a “Day of Work Assessment”, which will place the applicant in a simulated plant environment to assess their skills at various tasks. This will help ensure that qualified candidates are matched to positions suited to their skills and abilities.  Job offers are contingent upon a successful background check, drug screening and physical.

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing will hire approximately 4,000 team members to meet its production projections through 2022. The volume of anticipated applicants means the timeline from assessment to job offer could take up to three months.

Team member positions, duties, and details describing the application process can be found at

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing Looking for a Few Good Applicants … 40,000 to be Exact

The hands-on assessment features seven car bodies with four stations to test an applicant’s ability to follow instructions and perform tasks in a comparable environment to an assembly plant. (Photo/Jonathan Stinson)

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing has to fill 4,000 jobs, with 3,000 of those expected to be hourly production positions, over the next two years, at its vehicle assembly plant in Limestone County.

Normally, a ramp-up of this size would take about three years, according to Jamie Hall, a Toyota advisor for staffing.

To meet its employment goals, MTMUS estimates it needs about 40,000 applicants since the company expects 7 to 10 percent of the applicants to make it all the way through the hiring process and receive an offer, according to Hall.

To make matters more challenging, as Hall puts it: “This work isn’t for everyone.”

But, MTMUS has a clever way of figuring out who will shine on the company’s assembly line thanks to a detailed hiring process and its hands-on skills assessment center.

A successful hire will have to pass three stages before receiving an offer.

Stages one and two take place online.

Step one is a regular job application.

Jill Corbin, a public relations specialist with AIDT, performs a simulation that tests her ability to install wire harnesses. The instructions are given to her on a screen and the car shell is wired to register which harnesses are plugged into which receptors. (Photo/Jonathan Stinson)

This is the first taste an applicant gets of what the job will be like thanks to questions about working overtime, rotating shifts and weekends. They also learn about the pay, MTMUS’ eye toward safe practices, along with other standard job application questions.

“We want candidates that this type of work is good for,” Hall said. “So, it’s a two-way street, because we can only be happy if both the candidate is happy and we are achieving what we need.”

If an applicant makes it past the initial application stage, then they’ll take an online assessment that’s looking for things like their ability to problem solve, use applied learning and measure their leadership potential.

If a candidate fails to pass this assessment, they have two options: They can wait a year and reapply, or they can take a remedial class and restart the process immediately after completing the course.

“If you don’t make it through that point, one of the things that we recognized … was if there is a way that we could train these candidates who didn’t pass the first go-around, maybe they could come back into the system very quickly if they had some additional coaching or training,” Hall said.

That training comes from  Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT) and the state’s Ready to Work Program, according to Hall.

If a candidate passes the online assessment, then they are scheduled for MTMUS’ Day of Work Orientation.

This on-site orientation includes the hands-on assessment, an in-person job interview and a job placement interview. Even though this part of the process takes a full day’s commitment from the applicant, it also means a job candidate doesn’t have to take multiple days out of their schedule.

“We want to make sure this is a one-stop-shop because what we learned is, if you get a candidate and you have to pull them multiple times, then you start to lose the candidate,” Hall said.

The hands-on assessment is the star of MTMUS’s hiring process. It features seven car bodies with four stations to test an applicant’s ability to follow instructions and perform tasks in a comparable environment to an assembly plant.

For example, background noise is piped into the warehouse, the temperature is kept at 75 degrees and applicants are decked out in full safety gear.

Another example of the various simulations. This exercise tests an applicant’s ability to install bolts into corresponding receptors with both their left and right hands at the same time. (Photo/Jonathan Stinson)

Each station takes about an hour, which includes instruction, a practice session and then a timed session preforming the task a candidate was just taught.

The tasks include installing various wire harnesses, tightening bolts, tracing various patterns with your left and right hands.

It sounds simple when it’s written on paper, but in the real-world environment of the assessment center, applicants quickly learn it’s not.

The Day of Work Orientation is the last hurdle before an applicant gets a contingent job offer pending a drug screen, physical and background check.

The center can process 36 candidates per shift or 72 per day.

“That is a big improvement,” Hall said. “Previously we have been able to asses 12 per shift.”

MTMUS plans to ramp up its major hiring effort for team members with a target to start the hands-on assessments in January 2020 and have those first applicants on the job by March or April 2020, according to Hall.

Candidates must be 18 years or older and have a high school diploma or GED.

The team leader jobs will open up at the end of October.

The plant will assemble a new, yet-to-be named Toyota SUV along with Mazda’s yet-to-be named crossover model.

New Polaris Upfitting Center Signals Big Push into Commercial and Government Markets

Polaris just made a big statement about its intent to expand its commercial, industrial and government customer-base from Huntsville.

The Polaris Ranger is upfitted for mountain rescue teams. (Polaris photo)

It comes in the form of a new 275,000 square-foot Polaris Commercial and Government Up-fit Center and storage facility in the Jetplex Industrial Park at Huntsville International Airport.

“The Polaris Huntsville Upfit Center provides the capacity, quality controls and lean manufacturing process flow to meet increasing sales demand for our commercial and government customers for many years to come,” said Aaron Luoma, director of operations for Polaris in Huntsville. “Safety is the key priority at the upfit center as we strive to make Polaris a ‘best place to work’ and live up to an unwavering commitment to our employees.”

Upfitting consists of modifying vehicles from their standard retail packages at the plant, to “fit” the specifications of their customers, such as military, public safety and commercial.

The new state-of-the-art facility is equipped with two up-fit lines for the installation and customization of more than 10,000 possible accessories, including cabs, vehicle protection, safety components, and storage accessory vehicles for the Polaris Ranger, Pro XD and RZR commercial vehicles.

The new Polaris Upfit Center has six dedicated work bays, a multistation uplift line, staging, an enhanced post-production quality process, and warehouse space.

Located less than five miles from the 600,000 square-foot Polaris Huntsville manufacturing facility that opened in 2016, the Jetplex site helps facilitate easier shipping across the United States.

There are 28 technicians at the plant who began upfitting vehicles in May.

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing Signs Presidential Pledge to America’s Workers

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A. recently signed the “Pledge to America’s Workers” affirming its commitment to creating workforce opportunities to American students and workers.

The pledge-signing ceremony included 14 Alabama F.A.M.E. (Federation for Advanced Manufacturing) students who will work in the plant and White House Advisor Ivanka Trump.

“Signing the ‘Pledge to America’s Workers’ demonstrates our dedication to the community. We aim to hire locally whenever possible,” said MTMUS Vice President Janette Hostettler. “At full production, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing will employ up to 4,000 individuals.

“That is 4,000 training and career opportunities and 4,000 reasons we are proud to call North Alabama home.”

The pledge was created by the National Council for the American Worker, a group established by an Executive Order signed by President Trump in July 2018. By signing, companies and trade groups commit to creating opportunities over the next five years for American students and workers, whether through apprenticeships and work-based learning, continuing education, on-the-job training, and re-skilling.

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing is expected to create up to 4,000 jobs and is hiring staff and skilled maintenance positions. For information, visit

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, U.S.A. is a jointly owned-and-operated automotive production plant. The $1.6 billion facility is expected to create up to 4,000 jobs and will have the capacity to assemble up to 300,000 vehicles a year, beginning in 2021.

Ivanka Trump Joins Panel Discussion, Announcement of Toyota-Manufacturing Institute Program

DECATUR — A highly successful apprenticeship program here earned a visit Tuesday from Advisor to the President of the United States, Ivanka Trump.

The First Daughter was on-hand at the Alabama Robotics Technology Park to celebrate a new partnership between the Manufacturing Institute and Toyota Motor North America.

On stage for a panel discussion are Jay Timmons of the National Association of Manufacturers; Luke Phillips of FAME USA; Carolyn Lee of the Manufacturing Institute; Chris Nielsen of Toyota Motor North America; Ivanka Trump, Advisor to the President; Lexandra Lutz of FAME USA; and Michael Lamach of Ingersoll Rand. (Photo/Steve Babin)

The union will facilitate the transfer of operations and leadership of Toyota’s FAME (Federation of Advanced Manufacturing Education) apprenticeship program to the Manufacturing Institute.

Trump toured several workstations talking to students who have succeeded in the program before taking the stage in a panel discussion about the future of manufacturing and the impact successful workforce initiatives such as FAME have on the manufacturing industry nationwide.

“Congratulations to all the students who found this pathway, this exceptional program … and for this announcement today,” Trump said. “Toyota did something exceptional in creating a pilot that was excellent, to train that next generation of high-tech manufacturers, and then we start to scale it across the country.

“But it developed a life of its own. Today is about celebrating manufacturing coming in, taking best class practices from the private sector and scaling that opportunity so that many, many, more Americans can experience this pathway of acquired skills through this great program.

“We’re seeing inclusive growth, we’re seeing people who have previously been on the sidelines of our economy are now entering the workforce and securing the skills that they need to not just get a job, but to secure a career. And we’re seeing this everywhere we go.”

Carolyn Lee, executive director of the Manufacturing Institute, said at the center of it all is the students who will be the future of the manufacturing skilled workforce.

“As a member of the National Association of Manufacturers, it is our job to educate and empower the next generation of manufacturing workers,” she said.

FAME student Paul Logston and Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump. (Photo/Steve Babin)

FAME was created as a pilot a decade ago by Toyota to train the next generation of skilled, high tech manufacturing workers. The training model has gained traction nationwide.

“We believe when good ideas are shared, great things can happen,” said Chris Nielsen, Executive vice president of Toyota Motor North America. “The Manufacturing Institute is a trusted partner ideally equipped to build a program and take it to the next level. There is no better organization to lead FAME into the future and realize its full potential.

“These are well-paying jobs that lead to rewarding careers. We believe this will have a profound impact on many, many, industries and our country as a whole.”

FAME students receive the typical qualifications required for a job in advanced manufacturing. The program is designed to train students of all ages in the skills required to get a manufacturing job; to provide them with a deeper understanding of the manufacturing industry; and to prepare them, as graduates, to fill in-demand manufacturing jobs.

“Today is not just an announcement but a celebration of what can be built with leadership and with the commitment of an industry,” said Lee. “This is about coming together to build something that is truly outstanding, that has proven results, and is changing lives each and every day across the country.”