Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz Vans unit is celebrating 15 years of operation at its US assembly plant.
Mercedes refers to the factory as being in ‘North Charleston’ but the former (fire fighting equipment maker) American LaFrance facility is officially in Ladson, South Carolina and has built around 200,000 vans since June 2006, many under the Freightliner and Dodge brands.
The current range is the Sprinter large van and the medium Metris (US name for the Vito) and Sprinter also remains available as a Freightliner model.
The Dodge nameplate dates back to the DaimlerChrysler days and the brand, now part of Stellantis, these days rebadges and builds the large Fiat Ducato rival for the Sprinter as the Ram Promaster for the US.
Vans are classed as light trucks in the US and attract the long-running ‘chicken tax‘ 25% import duty tariff if imported fully assembled. Freightliner initially assembled SKD Sprinters imported from Germany at a plant in Gaffney, also in South Carolina, from 2001 until 2006 until the current plant was repurposed, set up initially for semi knocked down (SKD) assembly and was known first as DaimlerChrysler Manufacturing International (DCMI) with 100 workers.
Today it operates as a Mercedes-Benz Vans factory with 1,600 people and assembles vehicles from completely knocked down (CKD) kits.
Passenger variants of the vans aren’t subject to the chicken tax and are fully imported.
The plant was expanded for a full Sprinter model redesign in 2018 with new body and paint shops and an extended assembly building.
The switch from SKD to CKD followed two years of construction and new equipment installation costing US$500m.
The plant will also build the next generation electric vans from 2023 “to fulfil future customer demand and to build the eSprinter vans close to market”.
Shop Floor Digital (SFMdigital), an online platform that tracks key performance indicators, monitors delivery and quality metrics in each production shop and collects data needed to analyse performance trends, follow up on necessary actions, perform stability audits and identify continuous improvement opportunities.
From 2022 the plant will be 100% powered by green energy.