TUSCALOOSA, ALA.- Mercedes-Benz will expand its factory in Tuscaloosa, AL, so it can begin making the all-new fifth model, ML Coupe, a new crossover that will add up to its lineup in 2015.
The plans comes as an element of Mercedes’ plan to capitalize on Americans’ increasing demands for SUVs, Dieter Zetsche, the chairman of Mercedes parent Daimler AG, said in a visit to the Tuscaloosa plant.
While some vehicles like station wagons or vans are popular in some regions but not others, “the SUV is the common denominator around the globe (that) every market tends to go for,” Zetsche said.
The site also currently manufactures the C-Class sedan- the company’s most popular model and the R-Class crossover, which is sold in international markets. The decision to make the ML Coupe at the 4 million-square-foot plan comes three months post the launched production of the redesigned C-Class sedan in June.
“We’re calling 2015 the ‘Year of the SUV’ for Mercedes and Tuscaloosa because we will roll out the all-new ML Coupe and have face-lifts of the ML and GL,” Zetsche told local officials and community members Friday. “That also means more investment and yet another increase in production.”
“We are the first German manufacturer in the luxury segment to produce a sedan in the U.S.,” said Markus Schafer, member of the board of the Mercedes-Benz Cars. “We are proud of our team members doing such a good job.”
The expansion is a continuation of the company’s five-year expansion plan, 2010-2015 total of $2.4 billion by the end. Mercedes has invested more than $4 billion in Alabama since 1993.
Mercedes-Benz employs about 3,400 full-time workers in Vance. The company is appending 1,400 full-time positions at the plant as a part of production of the C-Class and the new SUV.
The company refers its non-staff employees as “contingent work force,” said Jason Hoff, the head of the Tuscaloosa plant.
“We went through a very difficult time in the financial crisis that we don’t want to repeat again, so there is a certain amount of flexibility we want to maintain,” Hoff said. “When demand requires, we’ll add more permanent employees to our rolls.”
Nearly half of the cars Mercedes sells in the United States will be produced at Tuscaloosa, said Gareth Joyce, vice president of customer service for Mercedes’ US operations. The plant which produced its first vehicle in 1997 will increase production by about 60,000 to reach an annual capacity of 300,000 vehicles next year.
Once successful, it will be the third largest Mercedes manufacturing plant in the world after German factories in Sindelfingen and Bremen.