It happened 30 years ago. One of the world’s best-known luxury vehicle brands, Mercedes-Benz, chose tiny Vance, Alabama, in 1993 as the location for an American assembly plant to produce its M-Class SUVs.
In 2017, Mercedes-Benz announced its plan to invest another $1 billion in its Vance plant, Mercedes-Benz U.S. International (MBUSI), to launch the production of electric-powered vehicles. The company stated that its aim was to go fully electric by the end of the decade.
Fast forward to today, and MBUSI is celebrating more than a quarter of a century of production in Vance with its new, all-electric Mercedes-EQS sport utility vehicle, moving the plant into a new era of building electric vehicles (EVs).
Besides the EQS — which is produced exclusively at MBUSI — the plant’s other products include the GLE SUV, the GLE Coupe, the GLS Luxury SUV, the Mercedes Maybach GLS and — soon to hit the road as well — the all-electric EQE SUV.
In an August 2022 press release, Jörg Burzer, a member of the Mercedes-Benz Group AG, production and supply chain board of management, said, “Our production network is very well positioned for the sustainable and rapid scaling of electric vehicle volumes. With the new EQS SUV joining our production portfolio of all-electric Mercedes-EQ models, we reached another important milestone in our strategy to go all electric by the end of the decade — wherever market conditions allow.”
Business Alabama reported in April 2022 that the EQS SUV can seat seven and has “powerful electric motors, responsive 4MATIC all-wheel drive and an intelligent OFFROAD driving mode,” for its ability to easily handle light terrain.
The vehicle’s aerodynamic exterior features a Black Panel radiator grille system with sensors that transmit information to the SUV’s driving assistance systems. The MBUX Hyperscreen is designed to display information such as a battery charge, where to find charging stations and other features. Customers can charge their vehicles at any charging station in Europe, the United States and Canada.
Under the hood, the EQS carries a lithium-ion battery with up to 12 cell modules and can be charged in just 15 minutes at a DC fast charging station for a range of up to 250 kilometers or just over 155 miles.
Mercedes has also introduced what it calls the Mercedes me Charge, a charging network of more than 700,000 AC and DC charging points around the world.
Moreover, to help their EV customers better understand how to charge their electrified vehicles, the company has posted a website, mbusa.com/en/charge, that features detailed instructions and how-to videos about Mercedes me Charge and how to charge vehicles at home and while traveling.
Regarding the assembly plant, company literature says the facility in Vance “uses state-of-the-art digital, sustainable, efficient and flexible production methods” and is modeled after the company`s Factory 56 in Sindelfingen, Germany.
“Thanks to early investments into flexible production and the use of the state-of-the-art MO360 digital production ecosystem, Mercedes-Benz is already able to produce battery-electric vehicles in large volumes,” Mercedes said in a press statement.
The company opened its battery factory in nearby Bibb County last year. The factory’s 985-foot production line has more than 70 workstations to assemble battery systems for its EVs.
Mercedes’ Bibb County battery plant is a part of the company’s battery production network, which includes plants on three continents.
Moreover, Mercedes-Benz announced in a statement in 2022 that all Mercedes-Benz US production sites would begin operating on a CO2 neutral basis.
“As of this year the Mercedes-Benz US production sites operate on a CO2 neutral basis as all of the Mercedes-Benz owned passenger car and van plants worldwide. In line with the Mercedes-Benz strategy of expanding renewable energy production at its plants, the Bibb County battery site’s entire electricity needs will be met through renewable energy sources from 2024 onwards.”
The most recent available report says MBUSI employed about 4,500 people in 2022 and the company estimated that the battery plant would foster 600 new jobs.
In addition, Mercedes reports that MBUSI fosters around 11,000 jobs with suppliers and service providers and that the Tuscaloosa plant has assembled about 4 million vehicles since it opened in 1997. That number included around 260,000 SUVs assembled in 2021 alone.
Mercedes also reports that about two-thirds of MBUSI’s annual production is exported, making it one of the largest exporters of automobiles from the United States. Its vehicles are sold in 135 countries.
Regarding the new EQS, Michael Göbel, president and CEO of MBUSI, said in the 2022 company press release, “We have a highly skilled and motivated team that has absolutely delivered in the successful product launch of the new EQS SUV. Our team members in Tuscaloosa have shown a lot of flexibility, energy and commitment in helping us to achieve milestone after milestone since our first Mercedes-Benz rolled off the production line more than 25 years ago.”
Gail Allyn Short is a Birmingham-based freelance contributor to Business Alabama.
This article appears in the March 2023 issue of Business Alabama.