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Haley, Hitt heading to auto show in Frankfurt, Germany

By Chuck Crumbo
Published Sept. 6, 2013

Some 50 meetings are on tap for Gov. Nikki Haley and Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt when they attend next week’s 65th International Motor Show in Frankfurt, Germany.

The trip marks the first time Haley, who took office in January 2011, has attended the auto show, Hitt said today during a conference call with reporters.

Haley Hitt“We are continuing to recruit heavily in the automotive sector,” Hitt said, noting that more than 60 automotive projects have been recruited to South Carolina since 2011.

The South Carolina contingent, which will include four Commerce Department staffers and one member of the governor’s staff, will start holding meetings with automotive executives on Tuesday, Hitt said.

Haley will attend about a third of the meetings over a three-day stretch, Hitt added.

The show, which covers eight city blocks and runs from Sept. 12-22, will provide Haley and automotive leaders an opportunity to get acquainted, Hitt said.

Hitt also noted there have been a number of key changes at the top levels of automotive companies, including BMW, which is headquartered in Munich, Germany.

“Now is exactly the right time to be there and the time to renew some relationships, extend some relations and add some relationships in this sector,” Hitt said.

Besides car companies, executives of three tire companies with operations in South Carolina – Bridgestone, Continental, and Michelin – also are expected to be at the Frankfurt show as well as key leaders of other tire companies, Hitt said.

One of those companies, Hankook Tire, announced earlier this week that South Carolina is on its short list of possible homes for a new plant in the Southeast. The chief executive of the South Korean company, Cho Hyun-shick, said at a news conference earlier this week that the company is in talks with South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia to build a plant.

Hitt declined to comment on Hankook’s plans.

“I will say it’s always delightful to hear manufacturing leadership talking about looking at South Carolina,” Hitt said. “We have become a place to look and we are getting a lot of looks. You don’t land everyone, you land more than your share, we hope. To hear any manufacturing leader say they’re looking at South Carolina is music to my ears.”

He also said that the automotive industry appears to be on the rebound after business collapsed during the Great Recession and two companies – General Motors and Chrysler – needed government help to survive.

Sales of cars and light trucks in the United States are expected to reach 15.8 million units, just shy of 2007’s record of 16 million. Projections call for sales of 18 million units by the end of the decade.

That means automakers will need to add capacity by building new plants and expanding operations, Hitt said.

However, Hitt said he doubts the state will announce a new project after the show.

“Our job is to try and make sure we are in play. We want and try and make sure when these companies are looking around that we get a chance at them,” Hitt said. “We’re not going to win everything. We many not even win any, but we need to be prepared, we need to do our homework, and we need to be in the game.”

Reach Chuck Crumbo at 803-726-7542.

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