University-Industry Engagement Week

Auburn and others at the forefront of auto tech tap South Korean partnerships

By David Schwartz
Published: March 7th, 2023

A detailed article on Auburn University’s efforts to build partnership activity with South Korea’s automotive industry appears in the February issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For subscription information, click here.

Auburn University’s efforts to bolster technology bonds with South Korea’s auto manufacturers — strongly supported by the Alabama Department of Commerce — have helped attract massive investments from Seoul and offer a powerful case in point of the potential value in cultivating overseas partnerships.

“In 2021, the last year for which results are available, South Korea was Alabama’s leading foreign investor, with companies announcing projects involving $325.5 million in new investment and 865 jobs,” the commerce department said in an e-mailed statement to University-Industry Engagement Advisor.

The Auburn-Seoul commercialization alliance is seven years old but, in late 2022, the two parties ramped up their commitment as both of their interests continue to converge around new technology — including the booming electric vehicle field and related technologies that form what has been coined the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

In 2015, Auburn, a 30,000-plus-student university in east-central Alabama, signed an agreement with the South Korean government’s Institute of Industrial Technology (KITECH) to improve production and solve the technical problems of Korean auto manufacturing plants that were springing up along the Interstate 85 corridor on both sides of the Georgia-Alabama border.

The idea, says Daniel (Dong Woo) Yu, PhD, assistant director of Auburn’s Global Leadership Training Initiative in the Office of Professional and Continuing Education, was to support new production technology for automakers Kia and Hyundai through cooperative research.

In December 2022, Auburn signed another agreement with KITECH expanding the original partnership. The broader agreement, says Yu, is in response to rapidly increasing investment in Alabama by Korean manufacturers as well as the emerging megatrend of 4IR and its new wave of interdependent technologies like artificial intelligence, 3-D printing, robotics and quantum engineering.

Shortly before the deal was signed, Hyundai announced a $300 million investment in the state for the production of electric vehicles that will create 200 jobs. Along with that, Hyundai Mobis, a key supplier for Hyundai, now plans to invest $205 million to open an EV battery module plant in Montgomery that will create 400 jobs.

Clearly Auburn’s focus on South Korea is paying off. The latest memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the university and KITECH, says Yu, is reinforced “to help the industry improve and maintain their technological competitiveness. Most Korean manufacturers will be covered by this agreement, including emerging business areas of automotive batteries, electric vehicles,” and carbon neutrality.

The partnership is funded by KITECH, the Korean government, and Korean automotive manufacturers. In addition, “for this joint technical support program to be sustainable and effective, other financial stakeholders like the Alabama state government and Auburn University provide funding to match it from Korea,” he says.

Although the newly signed partnership agreement is an extension of the old one, which includes exchange seminars between KITECH and Auburn, the new partnership could grow to include “other universities and industries,” according to Yu. The focus remains mostly the same: Technical support for electric vehicles and batteries in collaboration with Auburn University researchers.

“The Interdisciplinary Center for Advanced Manufacturing Systems at Auburn University would act as a foundation of this partnership,” says Yu, who has previous industry experience as president of Hanwha Advanced Materials, a supplier to the automotive industry based in Opelika, AL, and a subsidiary of South Korea’s Hanwha Group, one of that country’s largest corporations.

The partnership agreement, he explains, focuses on technical support for electric vehicles, but “it also continues to provide technical support for existing conventional automobiles. In addition to Alabama, we are looking forward to providing technical support to Korean manufacturers that have invested in the southeast region of the United States.”

And not just Korean manufacturers. In late 2022, Norwegian battery manufacturer Freyr purchased a site for its “gigafactory” in Georgia near the Alabama border with the intention of sparking interest among the region’s electric vehicle makers.

“KITECH would welcome joint research with foreign companies like Freyr or foreign research institutes,” says Yu.

Click here to continue reading this article with a subscription to University-Industry Engagement Advisor. Already a subscriber? Click here to log in.

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week