HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — The Alabama Automotive Manufacturers Association hosted its annual Supplier Diversity Conference in Huntsville on Thursday. The event promotes inclusion in the rapidly changing automotive industry, bringing together manufacturers, suppliers, and infrastructure professionals to discuss the future of electric vehicles in Alabama.
“We’re transitioning from internal combustion engines to more of an electrified platform, and that brings opportunities for everybody,” said Larry Deutscher, the General Manager of Manufacturing for Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama.
According to the Alabama Department of Commerce, the state ranks among the top five in the nation for auto manufacturing, with a production capability of more than 1.3 million vehicles in a year. The sector employs nearly 50,000 Alabamians in plants run by Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota.
“With that huge amount of manufacturing potential out there, we have to be ready,” said Deutscher. “We have to embrace the change.”
Toyota Mississippi Human Resources and Administration Group Leader Lydia Irby said diversity in manufacturing creates a stronger process. She said she works to offer an additional seat at the table.
“Anytime we can have more perspective, more ideas, it makes a better project in the end and not just for the development of the process but for the adaption of the process as well,” Irby said.
With current growth, state officials are ensuring minority suppliers are represented.
“My viewpoint here is to make sure there are opportunities to participate in the infrastructure the governor has put forth and to grow that here in the State of Alabama,” said Alabama Office of Minority Affairs Director Stacia Robinson.
In addition, industry leaders are working to open access to electric vehicles for all Alabamians.
“It’s a matter of being intentional and making sure that in every community that there are opportunities being created so that people can be able to buy these products and these goods and services,” said Chris Lewis, the Vice President of Corporate Development and Engagement for the Automotive Industry Action Group.
Several Alabama-based manufacturing plants have begun producing electric vehicles, and the state continues to install federally funded EV charging stations in counties previously without them. Industry leaders say they are looking to the future.
“Those people that are going to make those changes are sitting in our K-12 classes right now, so how do we engage their stem understanding and spark that imagination and that desire to be part of the solution here in North America,” Deutscher said.
Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle began Thursday’s event by highlighting the city’s opportunity to be at the forefront of EV manufacturing, sharing a similar message to Governor Kay Ivey when she attended the conference last year.