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Navistar opens new vehicle manufacturing plant on San Antonio’s far South Side

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Joey Palacios
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Texas Public Radio
Workers at Navistar's new plant in San Antonio examine the process of building a new vehicle.

Navistar began building heavy duty trucks in its 1-million-square-foot facility on Highway 281 South in January. Public officials and company leadership cut the ribbon on Wednesday with hundreds of its new employees.

The new site has been two years in the making after the San Antonio City Council approved a 10-year tax abatement worth $7 million, along with half a million dollars in fee waivers for the San Antonio Water System. The trade off for the city was the creation of at least 598 jobs, according to the 2019 agreement approved by the city council at the time.

The result in these abatements and agreements is the 600 new jobs that are already filled and the potential for hundreds more. The intent to build the first facility first announced to much fanfare in September 2019 about a month before the council vote.

During a tour of the facility, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg praised the efforts of the company to recruit local and homegrown talent.

“Hiring local San Antonians at great high demand, high wage careers, and it’s going to also begin… attracting new employers to locate as part of its supplier network and the greater ecosystem of the advanced manufacturing sector,” he said.

The company began rolling trucks off the assembly line two months ago. It’s set to produce about seven trucks per shift in its first months of operation. The plant currently only has one shift per day right now. The goal is to produce about 52 vehicles per shift by June. Although Navistar has plans for more shifts and more employees per day, it hasn’t set a formal timeline for when that would happen.

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Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
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Plant Director Rod Spencer (center) is joined by San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg (center left) and Navistar officials during the ribbon cutting of the new plant on San Antonio's southside.

The addition of Navistar gives more opportunities for San Antonio’s vehicle manufacturing sector, which already has Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas and its numerous on-site supplies about five miles away.

Jenna Saucedo Herrera, CEO of Greater: SATX, an economic development arm of the city, said Navistar is adding to the network of manufacturing jobs.

“It’s a great opportunity for folks that are contemplating career pathways in manufacturing… access to great wages, access to benefits and healthcare,” she said. “If you get an advanced manufacturing degree — two years — maybe take advantage of SA: Ready to Work and grow opportunities for your family so it certainly increases that demand.”

Rod Spencer, the local plant manager, said a handful of the 600 people who have been hired so far have come from the nearby Toyota plant.

“You’re seeing the automotive industry in this area is really starting to increase — as that happens your talent pool is going to be wider for everybody so a rising tide raises all boats,” Spencer said.

The two companies are vastly different in what they produce. While Toyota makes the Tundra and Tacoma for consumers, Navistar makes heavy duty trucks and school buses. Although school buses will not be made at the San Antonio site, what will be produced here is Class 6-8 vehicles which includes vocational vehicles, garbage trucks, cement mixers and other large vehicles like 18-wheelers.

The complex has the ability to make both diesel and electric-powered vehicles.

“The first vehicle off the manufacturing line in San Antonio was the International eMV Series electric truck; the purpose of the plant from inception was to have the capability to manufacture both electric and internal combustion engine powertrains in the same facility,” said Mark Hernandez, an executive vice president for Navistar.

Navistar currently has plants in Springfield, Ohio; Escobedo, Mexico; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Huntsville, Alabama. Nationwide the company has about 14,000 employees.

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