February 13, 2012

State of Alabama
Press Release: Alabama Department of Commerce

Mercedes Confident That Tuscaloosa Expansions Will Help Company Thrive

By Patrick Rupinski, The Tuscaloosa News
Published: Sunday, February 12, 2012
Dusty Compton | The Tuscaloosa News
Production at the Mercedes-Benz U.S. International plant in Vance is seen on Oct. 20, 2011. The Mercedes plant has been in expansion mode as it prepares to add new models during the next few years. The plant had a record production year in 2011 and expects to break that record this year.

When the chairman of Mercedes-Benz’s parent company, Daimler AG, held his annual press briefing in Germany on Thursday, he specifically mentioned Tuscaloosa as a city that is key to the automaker’s future.

The comment came from Daimler Chairman Dieter Zetsche as he outlined the company’s auto sales targets, which included being the world leader in premium car sales by no later than 2020.

“All of this requires increased production closer to our customers in growth markets,” Zetsche said. “We are, for example, expanding our manufacturing facility in Tuscaloosa to accommodate C-Class production.

“We will team up with our partner Renault-Nissan to produce Mercedes-Benz four-cylinder gasoline engines in Decherd, Tenn. Production will commence in 2014.”

That’s the year when Mercedes will start its popular C-Class sedan production at Vance in Tuscaloosa County.

The C-Class will be the fourth model to roll off the Vance assembly lines. Last year, Mercedes announced it would add a fifth, still unnamed model to its Vance production in 2015, but Zetsche gave no hint as to what type of vehicle that would be.

Since last year, things have been busy at the Vance assembly plant.

The plant, Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, produced a record number of vehicles in 2011, and Markus Schaefer, MBUSI’s president, said Friday that it expects to set another record this year.

MBUSI is expanding the plant to prepare for launch of the C-Class in two years, and Schaefer said that at mid-year, it will start a third shift.

“We will be a 24-hour operation,” he said, noting the around-the-clock operations will be in place six days a week, with production also scheduled for most Saturdays.

The third shift will coincide with MBUSI taking one of its assembly lines off line so work can begin on retooling and preparing it for C-Class production.

MBUSI also is gearing up to produce its next generation of what is being described as a “much greener” GL-Class, one of the sport utility vehicles made exclusively at Vance. The new GL-Class will be available in September.

Some workers will be moved around to accommodate the around-the-clock production at Vance, Schaefer said.

Schaefer said the plant is hiring, particularly more white-collar professionals. He said he recently spoke to University of Alabama students about future careers in West Alabama’s automotive industry.

White-collar workers are needed in areas like accounting, finance, law, engineering, human resources, quality control and supply management, he said.

MBUSI now has about 2,800 employees. It uses Monster.com and other sources to find its professional workers and has been working with state agencies to find qualified applicants and trainees for its future blue-collar positions.

As for the future C-Class production, Schaefer said prototypes of the next generation of the popular sedan, which will be launched in 2014, have already been developed and tested in Germany.

No timeframe has been set for when they will be unveiled publicly.

Vance will make all the C-Class vehicles that will be sold in the North American market in 2014 and will be one of four Mercedes plants worldwide that will make its top-selling vehicle. The other plants will be in Germany, South Africa and China. Currently, the C-Class is imported to the U.S.

The shift of C-Class production and plans to make a fifth new vehicle in Vance beginning in 2015 are part of major push by Mercedes to increase its sales and add new models.

Zetsche in his Thursday presentation, which has been posted online, indicated Mercedes planned to add 10 new models to its worldwide product line-up by 2015.

One of those new vehicles will be a sport utility vehicle, a segment that Mercedes has concentrated at Vance, which makes all of the company’s M-Class SUVs, R-Class crossover vehicles and GL-Class SUVs.

But the presentation also noted that two new mid-size cars will be among the 10 new models. Mercedes’s mid-sized line currently includes four models, three of which are variations of the C-Class.

Last year, Mercedes’ worldwide sales of all its models made at plants around the globe totaled 1.38 million vehicles.

Zetsche in his presentation said that by 2014, Mercedes plans to sell at least 1.5 million passenger cars, and, by 2016, at least 1.6 million vehicles.

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