Electric vehicles and unionization prominent issues for Mercedes

Mercedes produces both standard fuel and electric vehicles at its plant in Vance and EV battery packs in Bibb County

Mercedes opened its battery assembly plant in Bibb County in 2022.

There haven’t been many major announcements coming out of the Mercedes-Benz U.S. International plant in Vance recently in regards to production output or facility changes. Instead, it’s just been more of the same, which in this case is good news for the German automotive manufacturer.

Vehicles have become Alabama’s top export at nearly $9 billion a year, a figure that the Alabama Department of Commerce states on its website is “led by Mercedes-Benz.” This has basically been the case since Mercedes first set up shop in the United States just outside of Tuscaloosa in the mid-1990s.

Today, the Vance plant produces more than 250,000 vehicles per year. It is the home of SUV production for the Mercedes GLE, GLE coupé and GLS model series, including the ultra-luxury Mercedes-Maybach GLS, with prices starting at approximately $175,000.

The Mercedes EQS in production in Vance.

In addition, the Vance plant has launched production of the all-electric EQS SUV and EQE, part of a global push by Mercedes to increase its output of all-electric vehicles. And since electric vehicles need battery-charging stations, the company has been working to increase those numbers as well.

Mercedes is part of an effort that includes Honda, Hyundai and others to develop a nationwide network of at least 30,000 high-powered chargers. The new charging stations will be accessible to all battery-powered electric vehicles from any automaker using Combined Charging System (CCS) or North American Charging Standard (NACS).

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Independent of that venture, Mercedes has entered agreements in the past year with Tesla to give Mercedes EV drivers access to more than 12,000 Tesla Superchargers, and with the popular convenience store chain Buc-ee’s to install charging stations at its stores throughout the country, including at Alabama locations near Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile.

Workers assembly the battery packs at Mercedes’ latest facility in Bibb County.

Seemingly the most unpredictable issue currently facing Mercedes is the unionization efforts that have generated national attention, as well as local criticism from Gov. Kay Ivey and other state officials. On Jan. 10, the United Auto Workers stated in a news release that more than 30% of the 6,300-person workforce at the Mercedes Vance plant had signed union authorization cards.

In response, the company released a statement that read: “Mercedes-Benz U.S. International has a strong record of success over the past 25-plus years operating as one team in Alabama. Central to our success is our positive team culture that includes an open-door policy. MBUSI has a proven record of competitively compensating team members and providing many additional benefits.

“We believe open and direct communication with our team members is the best path forward to ensure continued success. Whether to unionize is our team members’ decision, and MBUSI will respect whatever is decided.”

Efforts to reach Mercedes for comment for this article were unsuccessful.

Cary Estes is a Birmingham-based freelance contributor to Business Alabama.

This article appears in the March 2024 issue of Business Alabama.

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