VANCE, Ala. -- Suppliers make parts. Automakers put them into new vehicles. Sales organizations distribute duplicate parts to retailers for repairs to previous years' vehicles.
That's the way it works across the auto industry, but not at Mercedes-Benz U.S. International Inc. in Vance, Ala.
Because the manufacturer is the sole world producer of the M class, R class and GL, the factory in Vance also must supply its parts to a global network of Mercedes dealers. Break off a sun visor in Brunei? A new one comes from Johnson Controls Inc. in Cottondale, Ala. Lose a fuel cap Bratislava? A replacement comes from Stant Manufacturing's plant in Port Huron, Mich.
To do the job, Mercedes last year opened a 520,000-square-foot distribution center a short drive from its Vance assembly plant. The center's 67 employees sift through 7,000 retail parts to fill about 500 orders a day, or about 15 truckloads of retail parts.
"We originally thought of having the sales company perform this role," Service Parts Manager John Reagan says as he walks an aisle a quarter-mile long lined with two-story shelves. In fact, Mercedes' American sales subsidiary, Mercedes-Benz USA LLC in Montvale, N.J., already operates five U.S. parts distribution centers.
"But we're the ones with the supplier relationships," Reagan continues. "We make the vehicle. We know the parts, and we know the people who made them. In a lot of cases, the part probably came from somewhere near our plant."
That gives Mercedes' U.S. suppliers two customers in one. Most of a month's production goes to the Mercedes assembly plant. Another part is shipped to the distribution warehouse. The warehouse feeds the existing distribution chain, either in North America or through the automaker's global logistics center in Germany.
That raised a couple of U.S. supply-chain issues for Mercedes and its Tier 1 suppliers. One was how to handle parts already in Europe. About 20 percent of the parts that go into the Alabama-built vehicles come from European factories, especially engines and transmissions. For service purposes, those parts are split into two streams. One goes to the auto plant and the other to the distribution center.
Another issue was managing the pieces for large modules. In the M-class cockpit, for example, Mercedes-Benz has one supplier of record, Delphi Corp. But dozens of pieces from other suppliers make up the module.
For service purposes, the producers of each subcomponent must supply the distribution warehouse separately. That means the Alabama distribution center assumes quality and logistical responsibility for all components for the M, R and GL classes, except for parts made in Europe.
"A company might not be a direct supplier to the plant, technically speaking," Reagan notes, "but it's a supplier to us."
You may e-mail Lindsay Chappell at [email protected]