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The biggest car plant in the world

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Lesley Wimbush
Hyundai's Ulsan Korea facility
ULSAN, Korea – As the cars pass slowly by, they bear little resemblance to the sleek sedans they'll eventually become. Skeletal frames, they slowly gather parts, growing incrementally as they travel down the line. Here, workers move in well-rehearsed choreography, adding suspension parts and exhaust systems; there, a giant robotic arm swivels and plants a windscreen in place with unfailing accuracy.

Hyundai Motor Company
Hyundai's installations in Ulsan, Korea can build 5,600 cars a day. (Photo: Lesley Wimbush/

We're in plant #5 of Hyundai Motor Company's Ulsan manufacturing facility, located in south-east Korea on the Sea of Japan. At 1,225 acres, it's the largest automobile production site in the world.

Comprised of five independent plants that produce 5,600 cars a day, 1.53 million cars per year, the Ulsan plant employs more than 34,000 people – 800 of whom are women. So large is the site, it functions almost like a small city, operating its own hospital, a network of roads, fire and emergency services and a port that can accommodate three 75,000-ton ships at a time. In a nod towards environmental responsibility, the site boasts its own sewage and waste water treatment plants, and is host to more than 500,000 trees.

The plant we're touring produces Equus and Genesis sedans – one car every 12 seconds. It's surprisingly bright and clean; the days of factories being dark and greasy throwbacks to the industrial revolution are but a distant memory. Here, there is order and cleanliness, with shining enamelled floors, an absence of grease and electric trolleys that tinkle a happy classical tune rather than honking out a warning of their approach.

As the cars move through the assembly line, they slowly take shape. There are some 20,000 components that go into building each vehicle – some of which are sourced from suppliers. Since 1990, when Hyundai developed what it calls its "liberation engine", the 4-cylinder Alpha, the company now produces its powertrains in-house. All of the vehicles, except those destined for South Africa, are built to order – sometimes resulting in more demand than supply. For example, all 3,000 pre-ordered Velosters shipped to Brazil sold overnight.

The occasion almost calls for music, or at least a drum roll, as with bated breath we watch the semi-finished car bodies lowered upon the waiting powertrains, in what is called the "marriage area."

Hyundai Motor Company
Some 20,000 components go into building each vehicle. (Photo: Lesley Wimbush/
Lesley Wimbush
Lesley Wimbush
Automotive expert