While the U.S. industry is transfixed on the rise of China as a critical market and manufacturing base, another Asian country is stepping onto the stage: India.
Mercedes-Benz will begin importing its best-selling vehicle, the GLC compact crossover, into the U.S. from its plant in western India, Automotive News has learned.
The German luxury automaker joins Ford Motor Co. in tapping India as a source for U.S. vehicles, underscoring the subcontinent's rapid ascent as an auto export hub. Ford last year began importing its EcoSport subcompact crossover from Chennai.
General Motors, meanwhile, thwarted in its efforts to develop an Indian sales base, has converted its Indian automaking capacity to an export base, but it has given no indication that it would export to the U.S.
The sudden appearance of vehicles from India comes as U.S.-Chinese trade relations roil over punitive tariffs on vehicles and auto parts. It also occurs as the Indian domestic market struggles and Indian factories are faced with overcapacity.
Deliveries of the Mercedes GLC, built at the automaker's plant in Pune, will arrive in the U.S. next month, Mercedes-Benz USA spokesman Rob Moran confirmed last week.
"The SUV GLC is in great demand worldwide," Moran said. "Therefore, Mercedes-Benz uses the capacities of its global production network on four continents. This also includes the Mercedes-Benz plant in Pune."
Mercedes has informed NHTSA of its import plans.
The notion of importing vehicles from India arose a decade ago when Mahindra & Mahindra — at that time an Indian military vehicle builder — inked a deal to export a somewhat rough-hewn small diesel pickup to the U.S. through an independent distributor. Retailers asked for numerous quality improvements before they could sell the pickup, and the import deal collapsed before the vehicle was certified by U.S. regulators.
The picture has changed significantly since then.
The GLC is the highest-selling luxury compact crossover in the U.S. and the top-selling model across Mercedes' brand lineup.
GLCs sold in the U.S. are currently built in Bremen, Germany. There are no plans to produce the crossover in the Mercedes factory in Vance, Ala.