TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Alabama is the No. 3 auto exporter in the U.S., according to a survey by the Alabama Department of Commerce, with the Mercedes-Benz U.S. International factory in Tuscaloosa County leading the way.

The state's automobile exports totaled $7.75 billion in 2017, trailing only Michigan and South Carolina. Mercedes-Benz is Alabama's top auto exporter, responsible for around $5 billion in vehicle shipments annually.

The Mercedes plant, located in Vance, produces luxury SUVs and cars that are sold in every corner of the world.

"Customers around the globe continue to seek the high-quality, high-performance products of Alabama's auto industry, and our skilled auto workers continue to deliver what they're looking for," Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said in a news release. "The success of Alabama exports, and particularly automotive exports, helps create jobs and transform communities here at home."

The survey also notes that Mercedes is the state's biggest exporter overall. Automotive exports played a key role in Alabama reaching a record $21.7 billion in exports during 2017, along with aircraft components, chemicals, paper and minerals. Alabama exports have climbed 50 percent in the past decade, according to the survey.

Mercedes-Benz opened Alabama's first automobile production plant in 1997. Since then, Honda has opened a plant in Talladega County and Hyundai has a plant in Montgomery County, while Toyota and Mazda have plans to open a plant near Hunstville in 2021.

Honda Manufacturing of Alabama exports about 8 percent to 10 percent of its annual output of SUVs, minivans and pickups. Exports of its products are limited because the plant only produces left-hand-drive vehicles, and some models are too large for countries with high fuel costs and narrow streets and roads. The most popular markets for Honda's Alabama products are Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, South Korea and the Middle East.

Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama exported about 5 percent of its SUVs and sedans last year. Most of the vehicles were sent to Canada, but a small amount went to Puerto Rico and El Salvador.

In 2017, Alabama-made vehicles were shipped to six continents. China was the No. 1 market, with more than $2.2 billion in state-built vehicle exports last year, a 10 percent increase from 2016.

Hilda Lockhart, director of Commerce's Office of International Trade, said China is still seen as a good growth market for vehicles.

"Their GDP continues to grow, and the middle class income level is increasing - thus buying cars," she said.

China was followed on the list of top importers of Alabama-made vehicles by Germany, Canada, Mexico, Belgium, South Korea, Australia, United Arab Emirates, India, South Africa, Chile and Saudi Arabia.

Elsewhere, vehicle exports to the United Kingdom decreased, a trend that experts say could be connected to political and economic uncertainty related to Brexit.

"As for Africa, this market continues to have a growing population and a lot of the people are moving to the cities. The main transportation is vehicles via the roads," Lockhart said. "If the trend continues, Africa is an emerging market and is home to some of the top fastest-growing economies in the world."

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Information from: The Tuscaloosa News, http://www.tuscaloosanews.com