More than a dozen officials participated in the ceremonial groundbreaking of Hyundai Motor Group's planned electric vehicle plant in Bryan County. Among them were (from left) South Korea ambassador to the U.S. Taeyong Cho, Hyundai chairman Euisun Chung, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, and U.S. Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. Credit: Benjamin Payne/GPB News

Hyundai Motor Group officially broke ground Tuesday on its planned $5.5 billion electric vehicle factory in Bryan County, poised to become the largest economic development project in Georgia history and the South Korean automaker’s first fully dedicated facility for EV manufacturing.

This story also appeared in Georgia Public Broadcasting

“We heard the clarion call of this administration to hasten the adoption of new electric vehicles and reduce carbon emissions — so, we took action,” said Hyundai global president and chief operating officer José Muñoz.

Dubbed by Hyundai as the “Metaplant,” the company says it will create more than 8,100 jobs in Bryan County, just west of Savannah.

US Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter and US Sen. Raphael Warnock share a moment before the groundbreaking.

Dozens of business leaders and government officials attended the groundbreaking ceremony, including U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and Gov. Brian Kemp, whose remarks sounded at times like a campaign speech.

“This project is just incredibly monumental in our state,” Kemp said. “Right now, we have more Georgians working than ever before. We have the lowest unemployment rate in the history of our state, and we’ve never seen as much job creation and investment in the Peach State in a single year — all because we made the tough call and the right call to protect and fight for both lives and livelihoods during the pandemic. And that’s because we trusted our citizens instead of a lot of shortsighted politicians.”

Warnock — who, like Kemp, is running for reelection amid a tight race — was not included in the list of speakers.

South Korean Ambassador to US Taeyong Cho
South Korean Ambassador to US Taeyong Cho at groundbreaking for Hyundai Metaplant in Bryan County.

The political dimension of the groundbreaking was made further apparent by South Korea’s ambassador to the U.S., Taeyong Cho, who spoke at the event.

“When President Biden visited my country in May, Hyundai and [Hyundai] Chairman Chong promised that it would build electric vehicle and battery plants in the United States,” Cho said. “Today, Hyundai is delivering on that commitment.”

Cho expressed support for Biden’s efforts to address climate change through the Inflation Reduction Act, but criticized a provision of the law which limits electric vehicle consumer tax credits to only EV models that are made in North America.

Although Hyundai plans to manufacture about 300,000 vehicles per year at its Metaplant in Bryan County, the automaker does not currently create any EVs in North America.

“Korean companies are now at risk of being disadvantaged by the electric vehicle tax credit provision of this act,” Cho said. “I believe it is not good for [the] Korea-U.S. partnership, for the state of Georgia, and not even for the common cause of climate change by limiting the consumer choices.”

Cho said that South Korea and the U.S. are “working very, very hard to find a workable solution,” and that the two governments will “exert maximum efforts in the next few months.”

Warnock, who voted for the Inflation Reduction Act in August, has since introduced legislation that would effectively extend the tax credits to Hyundai.

This story comes to The Current GA through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.

Benjamin is the Savannah-based reporter for GPB, where he covers Coastal Georgia. Prior to coming to Savannah, he freelanced in Bellingham, Washington, for public media outlets including NPR, Marketplace,...