Sprinting Into the Future

March 6, 2017


Jim Poindexter

On an almost 200-acre site off Palmetto Commerce Parkway in North Charleston, the future of Mercedes-Benz Vans, LLC is taking shape. Under construction here is a one-million-square-foot manufacturing plant that, by the end of the decade, will produce the company’s next-generation Sprinter van for the North American market. The new plant is an expansion of the Mercedes-Benz Vans, LLC, reassembly plant nearby, in operation since 2006. When completed, the new plant will not only ramp up production of the highly successful Sprinter. It will also become the first automotive original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to make its home in Charleston County and the first in the U.S. since 2011.

Transitioning to a full-scale OEM will replace the current process of reassembling Sprinters built completely in Germany, partially disassembled and shipped to Charleston, all to avoid high import tariffs on fully built commercial vehicles from Europe.

“The reassembly process is not the most efficient, but it has proved to be a viable option to supply the U.S. market as we tested the success of the Sprinter here,” said Michael Balke, CEO of Mercedes-Benz Vans, LLC. “Now the U.S. is our second-largest market for the Sprinter in terms of unit sales after Germany, so we know the Sprinter certainly passed the test!”

The Sprinter is one of the most successful commercial vehicles in the world. Since its introduction in 1995, the company has delivered more than three million units to customers. The large commercial van is driven in 130 countries.

“Now that the Sprinter has successfully grown in the U.S. market, we can expand our reassembly operation to include full production of the Sprinter,” said Balke. “What better place to do so than where we already have roots, here in Charleston? We explored all possibilities to make the best decision for our growth, but we ultimately chose Charleston because of the success and dedication of the existing team, as well as the supportive business relationship with community and state leaders.”

Steve Dykes, SCCED, AICP, was involved in the effort to bring the Mercedes-Benz Vans reassembly plant to North Charleston ten years ago. Dykes is the executive director of Charleston County Economic Development Department. Having an automotive OEM in the region has long been on his wish list.

“Mercedes-Benz Vans has established themselves as a world-leading brand in our community,” Dykes said. “We wholeheartedly supported their expansion plans. When we first met with Mercedes-Benz Vans, LLC, known then as Daimler Vans Manufacturing, in 2014, it wasn’t a given that they were going to locate the new Sprinter plant here. But we worked with them to solve some issues they had with the existing site.

“One of their biggest dilemmas was the need for a marshalling yard to store finished vans before distribution. We identified another site of about 60 acres across Palmetto Commerce Parkway from their reassembly plant to serve this purpose. Charleston County committed to improve the site by installing a traffic signal.”

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