Hyundai Motor Co.’s latest ambition to build its first mass-production plant dedicated to electric vehicles has proved to be an “out-of-the-box” challenge for its in-house legal team.
The Seoul-based automaker—whose North American division is based in Fountain Valley—started construction last year on the manufacturing facility, known as the Metaplant, in Bryan County, Ga.
Hyundai Motor North America’s 44-person legal team played a large role in selecting the site for the 3,000-acre facility and jumped through several hoops to make the plan pencil, such as facilitating developing agreements with developers and government partners and obtaining environmental clearance to open the plant by early 2025.
A little “over a year from now, we’ll have a state-of-the-art plant in operation,” Chief Legal Officer Jason Erb told the Business Journal. “It’s nice to have the legal team be such a big part of that coming together.”
With Hyundai’s growing investment and presence in Georgia, the team has helped spark relationships with the surrounding community, including agreements with Georgia Southern University, Ogeechee Technical College and Georgia Institute of Technology to establish recruitment initiatives and research partnerships.
Erb considers Hyundai to be in a major growth phase.
He joined Hyundai in 2002, when the legal team was a much smaller department, but every bit as ambitious as it is today.
“The mission of the legal team is to try and support and enable the business to reach its goals,” he said.
That team was honored in the In-House Legal Team category at the Business Journal’s General Counsel Awards on Nov. 16 at the Irvine Marriott.
Be Quick, Be Nimble
There are eight main practice areas for the legal team, from class litigation and intellectual property (CLIP) to corporate transactions to risk management and compliance.
Senior Group Manager Karen Morao and her environmental team work to make sure Hyundai is on top of new rules and regulations when it comes to vehicle emissions. The group played a large part in developing the new Metaplant’s environmental strategies.
Looking outside the construction in Georgia, Hyundai’s international efforts have Wilfredo Hernandez, deputy general counsel, and his team currently negotiating with a distributor in Brazil to redesign the firm’s business model in that country.
The mindset of each department is focused on evolving sales and reaching the operational goals for the Hyundai company, Erb said, which includes Kia and Genesis Motors.
The current industry focus on electric vehicles is a top priority for many automakers, including Hyundai.
“The team has made a concerted effort to be a part of those electrification efforts,” Erb said.
“It’s been happening at a quick pace and we’re trying to be a nimble department that allows us to meet the client demands as they come up.”
An alliance between Hyundai and six other automakers, announced in July, will install at least 30,000 high-powered charge points in North America. Erb noted that one of his legal team members had flown out to Munich to help finalize terms of the joint venture.
The company also completed a transaction with Tesla Inc. (Nasdaq: TSLA) that allows any new and refreshed Hyundai EVs to access Tesla’s larger charging network by installing the more universal North American Charging Standard (NACS) ports.
The legal team will continue to have its hands busy in the coming year.
Erb said there are more details to work out in the most recent Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) partnership that permits the e-commerce site to launch online sales of Hyundai vehicles and allows the automaker to include the Alexa AI in upcoming cars.
Many members of the legal team attended the Los Angeles Auto Show where those features were announced.
The first half of next year will be busy with casework for the CLIP team, overseen by Assistant General Counsel J. Douglas Bishop.
With the “wave of theft of Hyundai and Kia vehicles” that have occurred this past year, the department is working on unique solutions, Erb said.