Kia Reaches For The Stars, Alabama Turns On Its Jets, And Fiat's Italian Job

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Kia Reaches For The Stars, Alabama Turns On Its Jets, And Fiat's Italian Job

1st Gear: Sweet Home Alabama For Airplanes
The Mobile Press-Register has tons of coverage of some big news in Alabama. Airbus, the European aviation consortium, is going to build a $600 million factory there to produce the A320 family of jets. The plant is expected to employ 1,000 and is the result of a seven-year wooing effort called Project Hope. It's the first time Airbus will build planes in North America, although its parent company has other operations here including a helicopter plant in Mississippi. Here's what makes this announcement even more important: Alabama officials hope to lead an aviation manufacturing corridor in the South, just as Alabama became a centerpiece of the southern auto corridor. Born from jets, in other words.

There was a lot of complaining on Twitter about the flood of Alabama government officials who got up to speak at the Airbus press conference, but I know from covering the auto story that every single one of them played a role in convincing Airbus to invest there. Alabama is slick when it comes to courting. Many of the people who built relationships with Airbus are the same folks who came up with the incentive packages that lured Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and most notably, Mercedes-Benz. Think for a minute what it would mean to a state like Michigan to get the manufacturing investment that's gone to Alabama over the past decade and a half. It may take another 15 or 20 years, but Alabama will do its gol darndest to get those plane factories running and those jets into the air.


Kia Reaches For The Stars, Alabama Turns On Its Jets, And Fiat's Italian Job

2nd Gear: Where The Money Once Was
Coincidentally, The Atlantic takes a fascinating look at America's 30 richest cities in 1978 and where those cities are now. It's a reminder of just how much wealth there once was in Detroit and in other big industrial towns. 1978 was the peak year for auto industry employment, and the numbers reflect that. Detroit was the nation's sixth richest city in 1978, while Pittsburgh ranked 13th, Cleveland was 17th and Buffalo stood at No. 30.

Fast forward to 2010, and Detroit ranked in 15th place. Pittsburgh stood at No. 24, even though the city has done so much to transform itself. Cleveland was No. 27, and Buffalo fell off the top 30 list. The top three cities on the list — New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — remained the same. But as with American population, there are more representatives on the list from the west and the south. Still, even 15th place is higher than many people might have thought Detroit would grab, and it demonstrates there's still some economic mass to the Motor City.


Kia Reaches For The Stars, Alabama Turns On Its Jets, And Fiat's Italian Job

3rd Gear: Kia Hopes You Will Want Its SXL
Kia is rolling out a new, top-of-the-line version of the Optima, called the SX Limited (or SXL). Built at Kia's plant in West Point, GA., the first cars are arriving at dealers this week. SXL will have an MSRP of $35,275, including destination and handling. It's based on the turbo-charged Optima SX, and features 18-inch wheels, and a 2.0-liter GDI engine with 274 hp. Fuel economy is 22 city, 34 highway. Tom Loveless, Kia's executive vice president of sales, said the SXL allows the brand to propel itself into a "more premium class." Kia first displayed the car at the Chicago show this past winter.


Kia Reaches For The Stars, Alabama Turns On Its Jets, And Fiat's Italian Job

4th Gear: GM Turns Deliveries Over To Peugeot, Which May Turn More Workers Loose
General Motors announced the first big move yesterday in its new partnership with France's PSA Group. It is transferring most of its logistics business in Europe to Gefco, PSA's materials mover. Now, Gefco transport parts and vehicles for GM in Europe, including Russia. The agreement covered parts deliveries to assembly plants and to dealers, and also the shipments of Opel, Vauxhall, Chevrolet and Cadillac vehicles. It is one of the largest logistics agreements in the European auto business, and it basically means GM can focus on the nuts and bolts of building cars.

That's the good news. The bad news, according to Bloomberg, is that Peugeot may cut more jobs in Europe than it previously announced. Union officials told Bloomberg they expect Peugeot to eliminate 8,000 to 10,000 jobs, versus the 6,000 cuts the French automaker forecast last fall. Peugeot may announce the new target when it releases its first half results on July 25. Peugeot has 100,000 permanent and temporary workers in Europe and 209,000 worldwide.


Kia Reaches For The Stars, Alabama Turns On Its Jets, And Fiat's Italian Job

5th Gear: More Italians To Come To The U.S.
The Wall Street Journal (sub. required) reports Fiat may produce more cars in Italy for export to the United States. There are two reasons for the move. First, it will allow Fiat to use empty capacity at its plants in Italy. Second, more Fiats should help American dealers who are struggling with too few cars and a rocky return by the brand, according to the Journal. CEO Sergio Marchionne said he may use a Fiat plant south of Rome to build an unnamed car for export. Fiat plants already are slated to build Maserati sports cars and a Jeep model.


Kia Reaches For The Stars, Alabama Turns On Its Jets, And Fiat's Italian Job

6th Gear: Model T Plant Lives Long And Finally Prospers
Marketwatch says the plant in Detroit where Ford built Model Ts is finally open to visitors after a dogged restoration effort. The Piquette Road plant, near the New Center area, sat empty for years and had fallen on hard times until a group of preservationists bought it and restored it. The first 12,000 Model Ts were built there, beginning in 1908. The plant is operated by the non-profit Henry Ford Heritage Association, which is not affiliated with the car company.


Reverse:

VW's Slovak Plant To Hit Full Capacity Next Year [Bloomberg]

Chicago Cabbies Can Charge You $50 If You Barf In The Back [CNN]

Ten Reasons Why German Cars Rule [Fortune]

European Unemployment Tops 11 Percent [Associated Press]

Mercedes To Offer A B-Class EV In The U.S. [Automotive News, sub. required]

Tweaks For the 2013 Volvo S60 [Automobile]


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Kia Reaches For The Stars, Alabama Turns On Its Jets, And Fiat's Italian Job
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