Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Czech (HMMC) has begun volume car production at its new EUR1.1bn US$1.45bn) plant at Nosovice in the east of the Czech Republic.

The move follows the opening about two years ago of affilate Kia’s plant in neighbouring Slovakia.

HMMC president Kim Eokjo said “the highest possible level of automation” gives the automaker an important advantage over competitors.

The Hyundai plant, the country’s third-largest, expects to produce 18,000 i30s this year, 200,000 next year and 300,000 in 2011.

It currently employs 1,750 people but expects to expand to 2,750 next year and 3,400 in 2011.

Hyundai last week began gearbox production on the site and half the 600,000 gearboxes of five types a year will go to that Kia factory in western Slovakia. Kia’s Ceed line built there shares its platform and mechanicals with the i30; the plant also makes the Sportage SUV.

HMMC spokesman Petr Vanek told Agence France-Presse the global crisis had affected neither global Hyundai sales nor exports.

“In October, global Hyundai sales rose 12% to 269,958 units, which is the best monthly figure in memory,” he said, adding the growth was boosted by demand for smaller cars.

The Czech Republic is home to VW-owned Skoda and a joint venture plant producing city cars for the Toyota, Peugeot and Citroen brands.