A foundation stone has been laid for the new Sprinter assembly plant in North Carolina

A foundation stone has been laid for the new Sprinter assembly plant in North Carolina

Daimler's Mercedes-Benz Vans has broken ground for its new Sprinter plant to supply North America.

The new plant is an expansion of the existing van KD kit assembly site which has been operating since 2006 and will cost around US500m, creating up to 1,300 jobs with a further 400 at suppliers.

The body shop will be built first, followed by the paint shop and assembly hall later this year. Production of the redesigned Sprinter is planned to begin before the end of the decade.

Frank Klein, head of operations, said in a statement: "Our new Sprinter plant is a big leap into the future of production at Mercedes-Benz Vans. We are combining all of our global expertise and experience in this plant. In doing so, we make it one of the most advanced facilities in North America. The plant will meet the highest standards in quality, based on our globally standardised production system, from the first vehicle that rolls off the assembly line."

Focusing on connectivity like digital communications on the shop floor, M-B claims the plant "will be most agile and adaptive to respond fast to market changes and customer needs".

"The workforce will undergo comprehensive technical trainings to ensure a smooth and successful production ramp-up."

Michael Balke, incoming CEO and director of production at the plant, said "construction and all necessary preparations are right on schedule. We have already begun to recruit and train a core team of employees in administration. We have also hired the first technical specialists. Applications of production job candidates will be accepted beginning mid-2017."

The current production area and administration building of the assembly plant in North Charleston cover 409,000 square feet (38,000 square metres). The new facility will additionally cover around 1.1m square feet (105,000 square metres) plus a 2.8m square feet (259,000 square metres) marshalling yard for finished vehicles. With the new production site Mercedes-Benz Vans will be among the biggest industrial employers in the region.

'Upfit' integration partners will establish new production sites in the region, too.

Daimler said the US is one of the fastest growing van markets in the world and is now the second-largest single market for the Sprinter in terms of unit sales, after Germany.

In 2015, Mercedes-Benz Vans delivered about 28,600 units to customers in the USA, 11% more than in the previous year (25,800 units). Sprinter vans for the US market have so far been produced at German plants, exported as semi-knocked-down (SKD) packs and assembled at North Charleston. Since 2006, Mercedes-Benz Vans has assembled the Sprinter large vans and, in 2015 added Metris (Vito) mid-size models.

"This [SKD] process results in a significant competitive disadvantage on the US market for Mercedes-Benz Vans. The new plant and the Sprinters 'made in USA' will enable the company to more economically meet the growing demand, and to considerably reduce delivery time to this market," Daimler said.

With North Charleston on stream, the Sprinter will be manufactured at six locations: at the centre of competence for the production of large vans in Düsseldorf and at the plant in Ludwigsfelde, Germany.

The next-generation Sprinter will also be made in Germany and the vans the division is spending EUR450m to modernise both plants. The Sprinter is also made in Argentina and China while the previous generation Sprinter Classic is produced by Russian partner GAZ in Nizhny Novgorod, east of Moscow.

Since market launch in 1995, M-B Vans has delivered over 3m units to customers - 194,200 (+4%) in 2015, a record year. It is sold in 130 countries.

Previous Sprinter generations have been built on an OEM basis for Volkswagen in a now-ended joint venture while and versions sold in the US have also been sold under the Dodge and Sprinter brands.

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