The 1 millionth vehicle built at Mercedes-Benzs Alabama factory will stay closer to home than most of the Mercedes SUVs produced in North America.
The white M Class 350 4MATIC that rolled off the line at 7:59 a.m. today will be donated to an Alabama-based charity, Mercedes said in a press release.
When Mercedes began production of the first-generation M class at the Vance, Ala., plant in 1997, the automaker planned to sell about 65 percent of the SUVs in North America and send the rest overseas.
And thats the way it started off. But then the sport-ute took off like crazy in Europe, Bill Taylor, CEO of Mercedes-Benz U.S. International Inc., told Automotive News in a recent interview.
To meet unexpected demand, Mercedes contracted with Magna Steyr to build 77,100 units of the M Class in Graz, Austria, from 1999 to 2002.
Today, about 60 percent of the three models produced in Alabama the M, R and GL classes are exported, Taylor said. The plant builds vehicles for 135 countries.
So it flipped on us over that first life cycle of the original M Class, and it stayed there, he said.
Taylor called the reversal a good thing.
Its really kept our stability here, and thats another component of our success. Our ability to manufacture complexity has allowed us to participate in these different markets, he said.
During the eight-year life cycle of the first-generation M Class, about half of the 570,000 M Class SUVs produced in Alabama were sold overseas.
Through October, Mercedes sold 146,900 Alabama-built SUVs worldwide, a 10 percent increase over the same period in 2006. Of those, 59,400 were sold in the United States, up 11 percent compared with 2006.
The Alabama plant marked 10 years of production in February.