Big wheels keep on turning at Mercedes-Benz U.S. International's (MBUSI) sweet home, Alabama. Its 3.7 million sq.-ft. factory near Tuscaloosa assembles Mercedes SUVs not only for the Lynyrd Skynynds and Neil Youngs of North America, but for customers in 135 markets around the globe. MBUSI builds the Mercedes M-Class sport utility and the full-sized GL-Class luxury SUV. The company also produces the R-Class -- a crossover vehicle styled as a touring wagon, seating up to six adults. After an expansion of the factory, MBUSI can assemble as many as 174,000 vehicles a year. MBUSI is a subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz USA, which is in turn owned by of Germany's Daimler AG.
MBUSI, built in 1993, is Alabama's first major auto assembly business, and its largest exporter. (Honda and Hyundai have since built assembly plants in Alabama). As Mercedes' sole SUV assembly site, about 40% of its SUVs (valued at approximately $1 billion) are exported. The majority of the vehicle's parts come from North America (Daimler has another Mercedes plant in Mexico), but the engines and transmissions are made in Germany and assembled at the US plant. In 2010 the plant made 125,000 vehicles, not quite meeting its 174,000-vehicle capacity. It houses one body shop, two paint shops, and two assembly shops. About two-thirds of each vehicle's content comes from North American sources, while the engines and transmissions are from Germany.
The plant was hit by the worldwide slide in the automotive industry. In late 2009 it shortened the work week, extended its winter holiday break, laid off temporary workers, and offered buyouts to permanent employees. However, by late 2011, Mercedes and Daimler officials announced an additional $2 billion investment initiative, bringing the total investment to more than $4 billion in almost 20 years. The new investment will allow the plant to begin making two more automobile lines -- the C-Class sedan (Mercedes' best-selling line) and a smaller M-Class still in development. The investment will add 1,400 jobs and expand its annual production capacity to 250,000 vehicles.