It used to be that foreign automakers exported ready-to-assemble vehicle kits into the United States. Beginning next year, Mercedes-Benz U.S. International Inc. will export them from the United States to Europe.
The Vance, Ala., automaker is spending $10 million to set up a U.S. logistics system. The system will allow an Austrian affiliate to assemble its vehicles from North American parts.
The arrangement will require a combination of parts flows.
Mercedes has acquired a staging plant near its Birmingham, Ala., steel stamping supplier, Ogihara America Corp. There it will sort parts and pack shipping crates with components from suppliers in the United States and Canada.
Some suppliers will ship parts directly to the Birmingham 'consolidation center' to be packaged for export to Graz, Austria. Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG, a unit of Canada's Magna International Inc., will begin assembling M-class sport-utilities there next spring.
Other suppliers must ship their parts to the Vance plant, where Mercedes employees will sort Austrian-bound parts from Ala-bama ones. Graz plans to build up to 30,000 M classes a year. Vance is scheduled to build 85,000 next year.
Nine of Mercedes' suppliers will ship their own parts to Austria. Those nine supply the 10 largest components of the vehicle: AP Technoglass (windows and windshields), Budd Co. (truck frames), Collins & Aikman Corp. (carpets), Calsonic Manufacturing Corp. (heating/air conditioning systems), Delphi Automotive Systems (cockpits), Johnson Controls Inc. (seats and interiors), Kautex (fuel tanks), Rehau Inc. (bumpers) and ZF Industries Inc. (axles).
Mercedes will apply oils and use triple-wall packaging to protect the components from corrosion during the trans-Atlantic shipments.
Mercedes is conducting pilot testing of the system now to ensure a smooth startup in Austria.