After six years of a troubled and unsuccessful venture, DaimlerChrysler is today (15 August) ending production of the first generation Mercedes-Benz A-class at its Brazilian Juiz de Fora plant, in Minas Gerais state.

The last unit to roll off the assembly line will be the 63,436th made in the factory.

Mercedes won't replace the A-class at Juiz deFora with the second generation model on sale in many other markets. Instead, it will restart - by the end of the year - assembly of C-class sedans from German-made CKD kits for the United States and Canada, resurrecting a deal last operational between 2001 and 2004.

This is the company's only alternative to closing the $US820 million plant.

In April, the long-troubled plant suffered its biggest blow when the DC supervisory board cancelled the Smart Formore mini-SUV project that would have been built in Brazil. One month later, Juiz de Fora received another set-back when DC decided its Bremen plant would build a new Mercedes SUV instead of Brazil.

The last Brazilian-made A-class ends a saga that began in 1997 when DaimlerChrysler started building the factory with expectations of selling about 70,000 A-class in Brazil each year and exporting the model to other Latin America countries.

The plant was opened in 1999 but, in 2000, the best full year of sales, only 12,000 cars were sold in Brazil and total production, including exports, did not reach 15,000 units. After that peak, production and sales fell every year since.

In 2004, less than 6,000 units were made and this year the company has produced only 3,655 A-class.

DC isn't revealing the number of C-class sedans it will assemble each year for the US and Canada. It says only that the CKD project will maintain employment at Juiz de Fora which currently has 1,160 staff.

The Juiz de Fora workers' trade union thinks DC is using the assembly deal to gain time until the expiry on 29 February of an agreement that prevents it from firing the plant employees.

The union is still waiting to hear if any new vehicle model is planned for the factory.

Rogério Louro