By Jerry Underwood
Made in Alabama

At a groundbreaking ceremony, Mercedes-Benz officials formally marked the start of construction on a 2 million-square-foot plant in Bibb County that will supply battery packs for the automaker’s Alabama-made electric vehicles.

At the event, Mercedes officials also said their Tuscaloosa County assembly plant on Friday produced the first customer-ready 2020 GLE, the fourth generation of the sport utility originally known as the M-Class.

The battery plant, which will be built in the Scott Davis Industrial Park near the Woodstock community, is a key component in a $1 billion Mercedes expansion announced in September 2017.

The plan calls for Mercedes to begin producing electric SUVs at its sprawling assembly complex in Vance, about seven miles away, at the beginning of the next decade.

“The widely export-oriented Mercedes-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa is a high-tech production facility with a successful history and an exciting future in terms of our brand in the United States,” said Markus Schäfer, member of the Divisional Board of Mercedes-Benz Cars, Production and Supply Chain.

“We aim to play a pioneering role in the development of e-mobility and are well prepared to accomplish this mission,” he added.

At the groundbreaking ceremony at the site of the battery plant, Gov. Kay Ivey said Alabama and Mercedes have developed a strong relationship over more than two decades. The unfolding $1 billion expansion means even more exciting developments are on the way, she added.

“Just as Mercedes helped put our state on the cutting edge of automotive manufacturing, Alabama will help put Mercedes on the cutting edge of electric vehicle development,” Ivey said.

“We continuously strive to reaffirm the ‘Made in Alabama’ brand as one of excellence. So, naturally, there is no better state for Mercedes to build upon their world-class brand of excellence than right here in Alabama.”

Gov. Kay Ivey, center, joins Mercedes officials Jason Hoff, left, and Markus Schäfer in turning a shovel at a groundbreaking ceremony for the automaker’s battery plant in Bibb County. (contributed)

Second campus

The battery plant – twice the size of the original M-Class factory that opened in 1997 – will be a centerpiece in the automaker’s second Alabama campus in Bibb County. It will feature a battery analysis center that will accelerate the production ramp-up of electric vehicles and allow for the testing of battery packs that have been in use on the road.

Now under construction in the Scott Davis Industrial Park is the Global Logistics Center that will support the company’s worldwide logistics operations for the products it makes in Alabama. After it opens next year, it will supply overseas assembly plants with kits used to produce vehicles for local markets.

Also in the works is a new after-sales North American hub that will provide spare parts to markets around the world once it becomes operational in late 2020.

Mercedes said the Bibb County campus will create 600 jobs.

The redesigned, next-generation 2020 Mercedes GLE sport utility was on display at a groundbreaking for the automaker’s battery plant in Bibb County. Mass production of the SUV started at Mercedes’ Alabama assembly plant Friday. (contributed)

Fourth-generation SUV

At the groundbreaking event, Mercedes also showed off the next-generation GLE sport utility, the successor to the celebrated M-Class that was the first vehicle to roll off the automaker’s assembly line back in 1997. The 2020 GLE made its debut last week at the Paris Auto Show and will go on sale in the U.S. next year.

Mercedes says the new GLE is more aerodynamic and comfortable, and boasts a raft of new innovations.

“The successful story of the Mercedes-Benz Tuscaloosa plant began with the start of production of the M-Class 21 years ago. We are proud to see further investment into Tuscaloosa, which underlines the effort and teamwork by all our team members,” said Jason Hoff, president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, the automaker’s Alabama unit.

“As a team here in Tuscaloosa, we play a key role in the global success of Mercedes-Benz and we are proud that the all-new GLE will again be produced in Alabama for the world demand,” he added.

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz EQC is Mercedes’ contender in the electric vehicle market. (Mercedes)

New dimension

Mercedes has already invested more than $6 billion in the Tuscaloosa County plant, which has 3,700 workers and produces around 300,000 vehicles per year. Its electric vehicle initiative will add a new dimension to the state’s growing auto industry.

“Mercedes-Benz’s decision to build a battery factory and launch electric vehicle production in Alabama will position the state as a leader in a new automotive technology that is poised to dramatically change the direction of the industry,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“We’re proud to call Mercedes a partner, and we’re excited about the future that we are building together in Alabama.”

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.