Mercedes breaks ground on South Carolina plant

Sept. 7, 2016
Mercedes regards plumbing and HVAC contractors as its core customers. During the event, Mercedes introduced the Sprinter Worker as the most affordable Sprinter with a base price of $32,495. The Worker version has 319 cubic feet storage standard, Diesel standard, hauls 3,512 pounds and tows 5,000 pounds. It will be available with a high roof, long wheelbase and with a V6 gas engine.
Mercedes is introducing the Metris mid-size commercial van.

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Mercedes-Benz Vans USA has broken ground on a $500 million plant expansion here to build Sprinter and Metris mid-size commercial vans. The factory, technically in Ladson, South Carolina, at the site of an existing Mercedes assembly operation, should be producing vehicles by the end of this decade.

The plant will be more than 1 million square feet and will employ more than 1,000. Mercedes executives were cagey about exactly when the plant will go into production and how many trucks it will make because they don’t want to tip off their competitors.

Although Mercedes has introduced electric trucks in Europe, it currently has no plans here because customers worry that there aren’t enough charging stations to keep the trucks on the road. They also said during a press conference that they don’t plan on introducing hybrid trucks because that requires two drive trains, which reduces hauling capacity.

Mercedes execs and government officials, including South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (center) break ground on the truck maker’s Charleston factory.

Currently, Mercedes builds the vans in Germany, then disassembles them, puts them in containers, and ships them to Charleston where they are reassembled in order to avoid a hefty import tariff.

Mercedes invented the Euro-style van segment in 1995, which it brought to the U.S. in 2001 under the Freightliner name. Many other truck makers, such as Ford and Nissan, have jumped into the segment with their own offerings. Domestic manufacturers such as Ram and Ford have a competitive advantage because of the import tariffs on foreign-made trucks.

The United States is the second largest market for Mercedes-Benz commercial vans outside of Germany. To meet the needs of this market, Mercedes-Benz established a separate Vans division in the U.S. in early 2014, dedicated to serving the needs of the core commercial customer. 

The Sprinter was also sold under the Ram marque during the Daimler-Chrysler hookup, and it sold under the Mercedes nameplate in 2010. The vans got a facelift in 2013.

Sprinter sales have grown for five straight years, totaling around 30,000 in 2015. Year-over-year sales for June 2016 were up 26 percent and sales are up 16.5 percent for the year.

The goal of the new plant is to be able to build multiple models of Sprinters and to be able to phase out all imports for the vehicles for North America. The Sprinter being imported these days is available in four models, three gross vehicle weights, and a variety of lengths, wheelbases, roof heights, engines and drive trains. The service interval is 20,000 miles.

During the groundbreaking event, Mercedes marketers showed a video of contractors who are using Sprinters and the new Metris mid-size vans. Most of the contractors in the video are plumbing and HVAC contractors, who Mercedes regards as its core customers.

Mercedes also took advantage of the event to introduce the Sprinter Worker as the most affordable Sprinter with a base price of $32,495. The Worker version has 319 cubic feet storage standard, Diesel standard, hauls 3,512 pounds and tows 5,000 pounds. It will be available with a high roof, long wheelbase and with a V6 gas engine.

The Metris mid-size van is, to coin a word, garageable, and will have a best-in-class turning ratio. The cargo van version of the Metris has a base price of $28,950. Mercedes compared it with competitive full-size vans and claim that the Metris’ carrying capacity is just a tad smaller, especially with the custom upfit packages available from Mercedes’ partner, Knapheide. 

Coinciding with Mercedes’ announcement, Knapheide announced the ability to provide van and cutaway-based upfit solutions for the Sprinter and Metris, along with ship-through capabilities to service regional and national fleet customers and fleet management companies. Mercedes-Benz selected Knapheide for the exclusive MasterSolutions program.

Knapheide will soon provide upfit solutions for the vans through its Knapheide Truck Equipment Center located near Charlotte, N.C. In addition, Knapheide is in the process of establishing an installation center in Charleston, S.C., in close proximity to Mercedes’ current and future van assembly facilities.

About the Author

Robert P. Mader

Bob Mader is the Editorial Director for Penton's mechanical systems brands, including CONTRACTOR magazine, Contracting Business and HPAC Engineering, all of which are part of Penton’s Energy and Buildings Group. He has been  with CONTRACTOR since 1984 and with Penton since 2001. His passions are helping contractors improve their businesses, saving energy and the issue of safeguarding our drinking water. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame with an A.B. in American Studies with a Communications Concentration.

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