Mercedes to add fifth model at U.S. factory
Tuscaloosa will build a coupe-styled M class, sources say
FRANKFURT -- Daimler AG will add a fifth Mercedes-Benz model at its U.S. assembly plant near Tuscaloosa, Ala., company sources told Automotive News Europe.
The model will be a variant of the Mercedes M-class crossover with a coupelike roofline. Production will likely start as soon as 2015, the sources said.
The new M-class body style will be positioned against the BMW X6 built in Spartanburg, S.C., and likely will be called MLC.
Mercedes is adding the M-class variant as part of a $2 billion investment in the Alabama site that was unveiled on Thursday. That project will pave the way for C-class production while providing tooling for new generations of the R class and G class as well as a redesigned M class that went into production this week.
An expanded M-class lineup would fit with Mercedes' original vision for the factory before the first M class was built in Alabama 14 years ago. Executives said then the "M" designation would eventually represent a family of vehicles beyond the inaugural SUV. To date, the M's variations have been primarily engine options.
Mercedes has a precedent for charting product plans more than four years out. In 2009, the company announced its intention to build the C class in Alabama – starting in 2014.
A Mercedes spokesman declined to comment on future product plans, nor on how much Tuscaloosa's capacity and headcount will be increased in the future. Production at the plant is already close to its 160,000-unit annual capacity, and the factory employs 2,800 people.
Mercedes' internal development code for the new M-class variant is C166.
Mercedes is battling German rival BMW for the title of best-selling luxury brand in the United States, following an 11-year reign by Toyota's Lexus.
Through June, BMW sold 113,705 of its namesake vehicles in the United States. Mercedes, not counting its Sprinter commercial vans, had 110,926 sales. Lexus, hampered by the March earthquake in Japan, sold 88,010 vehicles.
Last year, BMW globally sold 46,404 units of the X6 and 102,178 of its sibling model, the X5, also built in Spartanburg.
Lindsay Chappell contributed to this report.