Daimler workers in Germany have walked out in protest at the company's plans, announced yesterday (2 December, 2009), to assemble Mercedes C-Class models at its US plant in Alabama and shift German production from Sindelfingen to Bremen when the next generation is launched in 2014.

The automaker said the move would save EUR2,000 (USD3,000) per vehicle thanks to lower wages in the US where the C-Class is Mercedes' most popular model.

German unions are concerned about the long term effect this would have on the company's core Sindelfingen plant. Several thousand workers walked off the job to demand details on how management planned to proceed.

Announcing the move, Daimler chief executive Dieter Zetsche said building [North American-bound] cars in Tuscaloosa, Alabama was "essential for strategic and operational reasons, so that Mercedes-Benz remains competitive and can fully utilise future growth opportunities".

It would also create about 1,000 jobs in the US and Ztesche yesterday stressed that the move did not signal a major shift in Daimler's strategy. "Germany is and remains the heart of our production network."

However Joerg Hofman, a regional leader of the IG Metall trade union, described that decision as a "slap in the face for Sindelfingen workers". Daimler's works committee said it was "a bad decision with fatal consequences" for Sindelfingen, located in south-west Germany.

Daimler said on Wednesday it would shift SL sportscar assembly to Sindelfingen to compensate for the loss of the C-class at that plant and focus on building C-Class cars destined for Europe at the plant in the northern port of Bremen. The company said it did not plan to eliminate jobs at either of the two German plants.

Around 28,000 people work at Sindelfingen, including 4,500 who build the current C-Class. Some 1,800 employees there will be offered "attractive employment opportunities" elsewhere, Daimler added.

Under its latest plans Daimler aims to produce 60% of its C-Class cars in Bremen, 20% in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 10% in China and 10% in South Africa.

South African output is largely right hand drive and is sold across Africa as well as being exported as far afield as Japan.

The US plant currently assembles the M-, R- and CL-Class sports utility vehicles, and produced 152,561 vehicles in 2008. Mercedes-Benz sold over 250,000 cars in the US last year.

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