By Jeff Crissey
At a ceremony attended by United States Senator (R-South Carolina) Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and other dignitaries on Wednesday, July 27, Mercedes-Benz USA Vans officially broke ground on a new $500-million Sprinter manufacturing plant in North Charleston, S.C. U.S.-based production of the company’s vans solidifies Mercedes-Benz Vans’ commitment to the North American van market.
When it first arrived on U.S. shores in 2001, the Sprinter operated under either Freightliner or Dodge badges. After Daimler divorced Chrysler in 2007, the German automaker reintroduced the versatile van under the Mercedes-Benz name starting in 2010.
Since then, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter has experienced five consecutive years of record growth as part of the company’s lineup. In 2015, Mercedes-Benz USA Vans sold 28,500 units in the United States, an 11 percent increase from 2014. According to Bernie Glaser, vice president and managing director of Mercedes-Benz USA Vans, 2016 year-to-date Sprinter sales through June are up another 16.5 percent. “We are on track to set another record in our sixth year,” said Glaser.
Bolstered by strong sales and wider market acceptance in the North American market, Mercedes-Benz Vans says now is the right time to build a full-fledged Sprinter production facility using the company’s global footprint strategy. Currently, the Sprinter van and its Metris sibling are produced in Düsseldorf, Germany, disassembled and shipped to the North Charleston plant for reassembly, an inefficient but necessary process to avoid the 25 percent “chicken tax” tariff.
“After five years of growth, customers are keen to have these types of products and in the future we see appropriate growth, and that gives us clear relief that now is the time to build a manufacturing facility in the U.S. market,” said Volker Mornhinweg, head of Mercedes-Benz Vans. “Establishing local Sprinter production in the United States is only logical. With this new plant we take a big leap into the future production of Mercedes-Ben Vans. This factory will be one of the most advanced automotive plants in North America and will allow us to continue to meet our customers’ changing needs.”
The new production facility, adjacent to the existing Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Metris reassembly facility and will directly employ up to 1,300 workers and will create an additional 400 jobs at local suppliers.
“The Sprinter assembly plant is already a magnificent facility,” said South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, during the groundbreaking ceremony. “The idea that Mercedes-Benz Vans chose South Carolina to be its only spot in the United States to manufacture these vans of excellence is huge for our state.”
Michael Balke, incoming CEO and director of production for Mercedes-Benz Vans, said the goal is to begin production before the end of the decade. When completed, the North Charleston plant will become the company’s seventh van manufacturing facility worldwide.
Entry-level Metris Worker joins lineup
Mercedes-Benz USA Vans also announced the availability of the Metris Worker cargo and passenger vans. The Worker is the company’s entry-level designation, with starting price points of $25,995 for the cargo van and $29,995 for the passenger van. The Metris will retain the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 208 hp and 258 lb-ft torque and 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic transmission.
“We are proud to be able to offer the Metris Worker starting at the end of 2016,” said Mathias Geisen, Mercedes-Benz USA Vans’ general manager for van marketing, adding the van is targeted toward modern tradesmen looking for low total cost of ownership.
The Metris Worker cargo van is only available in white, while the passenger van adds black and silver options as upgrades, primarily for customers in the limousine market.
The Metris Worker cargo van joins the Sprinter Worker cargo van introduced earlier this year with a $32,495 MSRP. For its no-frills Sprinter Worker vans, Mercedes-Benz Vans USA also announced new chassis, engine and body configurations.
Available in late 2016, the new Sprinter Worker options include a 170-inch wheelbase and high-roof configuration allowing as much as 486.5 cubic feet of cargo space and 6.5-foot standing height, and a 3.0-liter V6 BlueTEC turbo diesel engine with five-speed automatic transmission in addition to the standard four-cylinder diesel/seven-speed transmission base spec.
Mercedes-Benz Vans rolls out MasterSolutions upfitter program
As part of its strategy to penetrate new markets in North America, Mercedes-Benz USA introduced MasterSolutions, a new turnkey approach to upfitting its Sprinter and Metris van models. The company has partnered with Knapheide, Auto Truck Group and SmartLiner – all part of Mercedes-Benz certified MasterUpfitters program announced last year – to provide a wide range of vocational options that customers can order directly from Mercedes Benz and Freightliner dealers.
“These pre-configured MasterSolutions from industry leading manufacturers are customized to fit your Sprinter or Metris van and can be quickly configured and ordered via your preferred dealer,” said Glaser. “The ordering process is streamlined and installation is also simple — all MasterSolutions are fitted directly as ship-thru, thus ensuring seamless integration, delivery time and consistent quality.”
MasterSolutions configurations include SmartLiner’s 15-passenger interior for the Sprinter van with 170-inch wheelbase, which initially will be upfit at the company’s facility in Akron, Ohio. Both Knapheide and Auto Truck Group are opening facilities near the Metris and Sprinter reassembly facilities in Charleston, S.C.
Knapheide and Auto Truck Group will offer a number of vocational solutions for both Sprinter and Metris vans and cab chassis. Van options showcased at the MasterSolutions launch event included “smart” ladder racks, aluminum or clear ABS plastic partitions behind the driver and passenger seats, sorting shelves with lockable boxes and bins and tie-down options. Cab chassis options include a number of bodies for landscaping and vocational tradesmen.
Additionally, Knapheide will offer refrigeration models on both the Metris and Sprinter vans with Thermo King refrigeration units. The Metris refrigerated version is suited for farm-to-table, flower and beverage delivery applications. The Sprinter version can be fitted for refrigerated, frozen and deep-frozen options depending on the application and allows for 3,300 to 4,000 pounds of cargo.