By Dawn Azok
Made in Alabama

Alabama’s auto industry continues to dominate on the international stage, as state-built models were shipped to 88 countries around the globe last year.

Motor vehicle exports topped $7.75 billion in 2017, according to the latest trade data reviewed by the Alabama Department of Commerce.

That makes Alabama the No. 3 auto exporter among U.S. states, trailing only Michigan and South Carolina. California and Kentucky round out the top five.

The top dozen markets for Alabama-made vehicles shows the industry’s extensive global reach, with countries on six continents represented.

Merdedes-Benz is Alabama’s top auto exporter, responsible for around $5 billion in vehicle shipments annually. (Image: Mercedes-Benz)

China was No. 1, with more than $2.2 billion in state-built vehicle exports last year, a 10 percent increase from 2016. It was followed by Germany, Canada, Mexico, Belgium, South Korea, Australia, United Arab Emirates, India, South Africa, Chile and Saudi Arabia.

“Customers around the globe continue to seek the high-quality, high-performance products of Alabama’s auto industry, and our skilled auto workers continue to deliver what they’re looking for,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“The success of Alabama exports, and particularly automotive exports, helps create jobs and transform communities here at home.”

See the rankings of 2017 vehicle exports by state.

Record Exports

Alabama’s overall exports for 2017 reached a record $21.7 billion, thanks to the strength of automotive exports, as well as aircraft components, chemicals, paper and minerals. Alabama exports have climbed 50 percent in the past decade.

The biggest vehicle exporter – and biggest exporter overall – in Alabama is Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, which produces luxury SUVs and cars in Tuscaloosa County.

But Alabama’s other auto assembly plants, operated by Honda and Hyundai, export portions of their local output as well.

Hilda Lockhart, director of Commerce’s Office of International Trade, noted a few key trends in the 2017 data.

“China is still seen as a good growth market for vehicles,” she said. “Their GDP continues to grow, and the middle class income level is increasing – thus buying cars.”

Elsewhere, vehicle exports to the United Kingdom are down, a trend that seems to be related to political and economic uncertainty related to Brexit.

“As for Africa, this market continues to have a growing population and a lot of the people are moving to the cities. The main transportation is vehicles via the roads,” Lockhart said. “If the trend continues, Africa is an emerging market and is home to some of the top fastest-growing economies in the world.”

See a breakdown showing 2017 Alabama vehicle exports.

Global Demand

Mercedes is responsible for about $5 billion in annual exports, according to the latest data available. The majority of the plant’s annual output is destined for international sales in every corner of the world.

Meanwhile, Honda Manufacturing of Alabama’s Talladega County operation exports about 8 to 10 percent of its annual output of SUVs, minivans and pickups.

Exports of particular products are limited because the plant only produces left-hand-drive vehicles, and some models are too large for countries with high fuel costs and narrow streets and roads.

The most popular markets for Honda’s Alabama products are Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, South Korea and the Middle East.

Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama exported about 5 percent of its Montgomery-built SUVs and sedans last year. The vast majority of them were sent to Canada, but a small amount went to Puerto Rico and El Salvador.

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.