July 25, 2011

State of Alabama
Press Release: Alabama Department of Commerce

Mercedes Sends Message That It's Back on Top

Zetsche at Vance.jpgDieter Zetsche, chairman of the board of management for Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler AG, addresses employees at the automaker's Tuscaloosa County plant during last week's production launch of the redesigned 2012 M-Class SUV. (The Birmingham News/Jeff Roberts)

VANCE -- Inside the Mercedes-Benz museum on the grounds of the German automak­er's Tuscaloosa County plant last week, a well­-heeled crowd of business and political power brokers sipped cocktails and munched hors d'oeuvres.

The invitation-only soiree followed the formal produc­tion launch of the third-gen­eration M-Class SUV, the plant's flagship model that kicked off the company's Al­abama operations -- along with the state's auto indus­try -- more than 14 years ago.

There were lots of laughs and back slaps as guests milled around the museum, all in all a celebratory scene that has been scarce in re­cent years.

The party, as well as the earlier celebration inside the plant with its 2,800 employ­ees and the new M-Class, sent a clear message: Mer­cedes is back on top.

Dieter Zetsche, chairman of Mercedes parent Daimler AG, flew in from Germany for the event, bringing with him the board of Mercedes-Benz Cars.

"Bama and Benz is a win­ning combination," Zetsche said during the M-Class launch, no doubt comfort­ing words to employees, economic developers, gov­ernment leaders and others across Alabama who have a vested interest in the health of the plant.

The global auto downturn that stretched through 2008 and 2009 shook the faith of some, as the automaker slashed its Alabama output and shrank the plant's work force. For a while, the as­sembly lines were running just four days a week, a slowdown that trickled down to suppliers and other Mercedes support busi­nesses, which shed more jobs.

But now a recovery has taken over, as production and sales are surging, and Zetsche predicted brighter days ahead.

"This plant has a great fu­ture," he said.

He acknowledged that he can't make any guarantees about future downturns with the cyclical nature of the auto industry.

But he stressed the new investment that's ongoing and on the drawing board as a stabilizing factor for the plant.

Daimler and Mercedes used the M-Class launch to announce an additional $2 billion in investment in the plant to accommodate new models and expand capac­ity. By 2014, the Alabama operations will be worth more than $4 billion.

Zetsche was a member of the site selection team that chose Tuscaloosa County for Mercedes' first U.S. plant in 1993.

"I immediately feel a link to the people here," he said.

As for the plant's work force, there was always opti­mism about the plant's fu­ture, according to Kim Hagler, a series planning en­gineer from Tuscaloosa.

"We knew that we would be back on top, and we only have further stars to reach for," she said.

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