VANCE, Ala. — Jason Hoff has been CEO of Mercedes-Benz U.S. International Inc. since 2013, when he was promoted to the position from Daimler's purchasing operations in Germany. The Oregon native previously worked at the Alabama manufacturing company starting in 1994, a year after graduating from college, when it was still a comparatively modest $600 million construction project, working in finance, production, engineering and logistics.
Twenty-five years later, the Vance site represents a $7 billion operation, with a $1 billion electric-vehicle investment underway there.
Hoff has been promoted to return to Germany to head global quality management for Mercedes-Benz Cars, effective July 1. He has had a front-row view of the economic impact Mercedes has had on the region south of Birmingham, both for auto companies reaping the benefits of Mercedes' investments and expansions, and for thousands of residents working in auto industry jobs where none previously existed, and spending their wages across the state.
Hoff spoke at the company's offices with News Editor Lindsay Chappell. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: How much of your time here as CEO has been focused on expansion?
A: The majority of it. When I took over here, we were just getting ready to retrofit the SUV plant to build the C-class sedan. Then we added the GLE coupe. Now we're getting ready for a new GLE, and soon our new GLS.
We're building a C-class sedan and a GLE SUV on the same line. Those are two completely different platforms and that's a big step for Mercedes-Benz. About 24 months ago when we were discussing it, the team knew it would be complicated but believed we could do it.
Things are possible today in manufacturing that weren't before. Would you have been able to achieve all that 15 years ago?
It would have been a challenge. A lot of it comes down to the architecture of the vehicles. And we've built more flexibility into everything we do. When our new electric vehicles come out at the beginning of the next decade, they'll run down the same line and same body shop, too.
Mercedes made a big investment here a few years ago to build the flexible body shop you're referring to. Is that what made this new expansion plan possible?
Yes. That new body shop is now ramping up very successfully. We have parts being moved through it with approximately 100 automated guided vehicles that do the moving. It makes a huge difference. Not having all that fixed conveyor system through the plant makes us very flexible.