They were literally dancing on the floor of the Mercedes-Benz assembly plant in Vance on June 18. With the infectious Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy” blaring from the speakers, dozens of employees romped and rollicked their way into the cavernous facility, to the cheers of hundreds of other employees gathered to watch.
The star of the show was the Mercedes C-Class sedan, which was officially being introduced to this gathering after more than four years of planning and preparation. The C-Class marks the fifth vehicle line to be produced at the Vance plant since it opened in 1997, but the first non-SUV.
Mercedes invested more than $2 billion to prepare the plant for the addition of the C-Class and spent 18 months retrofitting the facility to accommodate production of the smaller vehicle. So when the initial sedan finally rolled off the assembly line, company officials decided it was reason to throw a small party.
“You have to take the time to celebrate, ” said Rolf Wrona, vice president of assembly operations for Mercedes-Benz U.S. International. “There has been a lot of work that has gone into this. All the equipment had to be completely adjusted for a smaller vehicle and a different wheelbase. It was extremely complex and challenging. So we needed to take a moment to breathe and celebrate successfully launching this vehicle.”
The addition of the C-Class means that vehicle output at the plant will exceed 200, 000 this year for the first time, according to MBUSI President and CEO Jason Hoff. He said more than 1, 000 new employees have been hired to handle the increased production.
The new vehicle line also reiterates the commitment that Mercedes-Benz has made to Alabama, noted Gov. Robert Bentley. He said the automaker has been the catalyst for a number of economic developments within the state over the past 20 years.
“If it were not for Mercedes-Benz, we would not be where we are in the state of Alabama, ” Bentley said at the June 18 event. “I thank you for being the pace-setters, the one that has helped us recruit more industries into this state than anybody else. You are the ones that started this in Alabama.”
MBUSI officials do not have much time to celebrate, however, as there already are plans to launch another still-unnamed line of SUVs from the plant next year. “In automotive, we never get a break, ” Wrona said. “It’s continuously moving.”
And that is why, even as Mercedes employees reveled in the C-Class launch, a steady line of sedan doors crept quietly along a conveyor belt overhead. That dance continues long after the music stops.
Text and photos by Cary Estes