I remember when Detroit was screaming about all the imported automobiles that were being shipped to the United States. The Big 3 were worried and mad.
Lee Iacocca led the charge, repeating that if they wanted to sell in the United States, they should build their cars in the United States.
Well, Lee and the rest got their wish, and then some.
It has been almost 15 years since the first Honda auto plant opened in Ohio. Most of the Japanese manufacturers followed.
Then, a couple of years ago, BMW opened its plant in South Carolina. BMW has been building Z3s as fast and furiously as possible. This year, it is building the popular sports car at an annual rate of more than 75,000 a year.
And now we have the first major automobile assembly plant in Alabama. A few days ago, Mercedes-Benz dedicated its plant for the manufacture of its newest model, the M class.
This sport-utility looks like a real winner in the United States and maybe in the rest of the world. It's another home run for Mercedes.
Both Mercedes and BMW took on double problems when they opened new plants, thousands of miles from headquarters. BMW quickly shifted from the 3 series to the entirely new Z3, and Mercedes created the M class here. Neither a new plant nor a new vehicle is easy. But to do both at the same time is doubly difficult.
And the Germans, unlike the Japanese, have created American plants that will supply the world, not just North America. Mercedes will ship most M-class vehicles around the world, including to Germany. Rather than just have a transplant that supplies the local market plus a small number of cars for export, both BMW and Mercedes have created a world vehicle and supply a world market.
It was an impressive opening in Alabama. But I couldn't help but wonder why the parent company was so insistent on emphasizing that this is a Daimler-Benz plant, and that this vehicle is a German-engineered car that will be built by Daimler-Benz for the world.
In this new world of branding, the strong brand is simply Mercedes or Mercedes-Benz. The only value to using the parent company's name is negative. It's a mistake, and the sooner the folks in Stuttgart realize that the world knows 'Mercedes,' not 'Daimler-Benz,' the better off the company and its shareholders will be.
Mercedes is a world-class brand. To mess with it is a real mistake.