Car Talk: Detroit is Dead; Long Live S Carolina!

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 7/30/2013 10:56:00 AM
Despite giving up its distinction of being the world's largest car market to China in 2009, the United States remains comfortably in second place. What's more, the average price of a passenger vehicle sold in the US remains higher than one sold in China for the simple reason that US income per capita remains higher despite income being on an opposite, downward trend. We've talked a lot about cars recently, from the demise of Detroit to its replacement by (foreign-owned and non-unionized) plants in the American South alike in Alabama. Today, let's turn our attention to another rising Southern state.

It is well known that BMW chose to site in South Carolina while deciding where to put an American factory to meet US demand (especially for super-sized SUVs popular with these super-sized people). It was only natural that key suppliers would follow BMW Stateside, such as the legendary German transmission manufacturer ZF. Despite not being widely known outside of car cognoscenti circles, its reputation for cutting-edge engineering is unimpeachable. Their latest product blows the mind: a nine-speed automatic transmission boasting superior acceleration, imperceptible shifts, superior economy and smaller size.Truly, the best of all worlds is possible. Nine speeds! When I was growing up, the move from 3- to 4-speed autos was regarded as a technical achievement, but nowadays those are primitive. As it so happens, South Carolina will once more benefit from ZF marketing more of these super transmissions to German and other automakers operating Stateside. From the press blurb:
ZF Friedrichshafen AG has opened a new plant for automatic passenger car transmissions in the U.S. Located in South Carolina, ZF Transmissions Gray Court, LLC is the manufacturing site of the 8-speed automatic transmission, which is already successful in the market, as well as the world’s first 9-speed automatic transmission [...] About 1.2 million transmissions are expected to be produced at this plant annually; this includes 400 000 8-speed and 800 000 9-speed automatic transmissions. The new plant expands the existing capacities at the Saarbr├╝cken location to produce 8-speed automatic transmissions.
Confidence is such that ZF's largest investment ever regardless of country just so happens to be FDI in America:
So far, ZF has invested around EUR 300 million in building the new location, which is around 130 kilometers north-west of Columbia, the capital of South Carolina. A total of approx. EUR 450 million is planned for investment into the new location. “It is the largest single investment in the almost century-long history of ZF,” emphasized Dr. Konstantin Sauer, ZF Board Member responsible for finance and the North American region. This reflects ZF’s vision of great potential for the region and the company’s desire to continue expanding its successful course with adequate production capacities.
And here's an important point for ZF locating in South Carolina aside from all those incentives offered by the state. Unlike bombed-out and deserted Detroit, opportunities for hiring and training workers in German-style apprenticeships is much greater:
ZF chose South Carolina because numerous automobile manufacturers and suppliers are already located in the area, and the local government provided a number of great opportunities to build a new facility. In addition, Piedmont Technical College established a new facility near ZF to aid in the training of a skilled workforce. With Clemson University in the area, it provides a great opportunity to recruit future engineers. Furthermore, the new ZF U.S. employees have been trained in the subtleties of transmission assembly by experienced, specialized ZF workers from Saarbr├╝cken via the “Buddy Program”. The employees, trained internally through this program, now work as multipliers in Gray Court and are passing on their knowledge to the subsequently recruited U.S. colleagues.
There's no substitute for on the job training for cutting-edge production  Meanwhile, I eagerly await the 12-speed automatic transmission. [German] progress marches on.