This past Wednesday saw Mercedes-Benz begin construction of a new assembly plant in the United States. The facility is being erected in the town of North Charleston, South Carolina, but not to assemble luxury automobiles. Instead it will focus exclusively on the Sprinter van.
Now if you’re thinking that Mercedes already makes the Sprinter in North Charleston, you’re both right and wrong at the same time. The German automaker does indeed operate a facility there already, from which completed Sprinter vans emerge for the North American market. But that’s a much smaller complex than what’s now being built, and does not actually manufacture the van.
Sprinters sold in the United States have, until now, originated at a Daimler plant in Düsseldorf, Germany. To get around the so-called “chicken tax” applied by the US federal government to light trucks (among other things) from France and Germany, Mercedes partially disassembles the vans and ships them to South Carolina where they’re put back together.
Once the new complex is finished construction, that time-, labor- and cost-intensive process will come to an end, with the vans to be fully assembled (rather than re-assembled) at the expanded plant. Compared to the current facility of 409,000 square feet, the new one will cover over 1 million square feet, with an additional 2.8 million square feet of outdoor storage on site.
The new factory is expected to create as many as 1,300 jobs, and another 400 or so from the suppliers and retrofitters that will relocate to the area to be closer to the action. The North Charleston facility is joined by the plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where Mercedes produces its crossovers as well as certain C-Class models for the local market. In addition to two factories in Germany and the one in South Carolina, Mercedes-Benz Vans also builds Sprinters in Argentina, China, and Russia.