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By Liz Segrist
Published March 6, 2015
Updated at noon March 6
In one of the largest economic development announcements ever made in the Lowcountry, Mercedes-Benz Vans, a division of Daimler, announced plans today to create 1,300 jobs and invest about $500 million to build a new van plant in Charleston.
The company plans to build a full-scale production facility on more than 200 acres in North Charleston, building off the Daimler operations at 8501 Palmetto Commerce Parkway in North Charleston, where vans are currently reassembled after being manufactured in Germany.
The van manufacturing campus will include a new plant, body shop, paint shop and assembly line, where employees will build next-generation Sprinter vans for the U.S. and Canadian markets.
“We are so excited to be announcing that Mercedes-Benz Vans (will have) full manufacturing right here in Charleston County. ... Now these (vans) will be made in America,” Gov. Nikki Haley said before state and local officials, company executives and employees during the news conference this morning.
The German automaker will begin construction on the new plant in 2016. An opening date was not provided for competitive reasons, according to company officials. The state’s Coordinating Council for Economic Development approved job development credits and a $14 million Closing Fund grant to fund property improvements at the site.
Volker Mornhinweg, head of Mercedes-Benz Vans, said expansion at the local site is an option in the future.
Plans for the new production plant will enable the company to get the vans to market faster, to be closer to North American customers and to be more economical, Mornhinweg said.
The United States is Daimler’s second-largest market for vans worldwide, behind Germany. The company sold almost 26,000 of its Sprinter vans in the U.S. in 2014, up 30% from 2013. The new Charleston plant is part of Daimler’s plan to expand Mercedes-Benz Vans’ global production network.
Company officials declined to comment on production rates. Mornhinweg said it takes around two days to produce one Sprinter van.
“It makes perfect sense that we will be building our vans where we sell them. ... We are investing around half a billion dollars to create a top-notch Mercedes-Benz van plant here in South Carolina,” Mornhinweg said. “This plant is key to our future growth in the very dynamic North American van market.”
With the new plant, Mercedes-Benz Vans will become one of the biggest industrial employers in the region. Global automotive and aircraft manufacturers have moved to or expanded within South Carolina in recent years, including BMW in Greer, Honda in Florence, and Daimler and Boeing in North Charleston. The state is also considered to be on the short list for a Volvo plant.
“This state is poised to do such great things for years to come,” Charleston County Council Chairman Elliott Summey said.
Daimler announced its North Charleston assembly plant in 2005. The company reassembles and distributes its Sprinter vans from the facility under the Mercedes-Benz and Freightliner brands. The North Charleston facility employs 140 people currently, and the company previously announced plans to hire 60 more for reassembly.
The company has delivered more than 2.8 million Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans to customers in 130 countries worldwide. The Sprinter van has been assembled and sold in the United States since 2001.
“Every time I now see a Sprinter van ... I’ll know it was produced in North Charleston,” North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said. “It is a great day in South Carolina and a damn wonderful day in North Charleston.”
Reach staff writer Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119 or @lizsegrist on Twitter.