Take the M class, Vances anchor vehicle. In 2008, US sales of the M class edged up 1.3 percent to 34,320 units. The M class is one of the few bright spots in the premium SUV segment, which saw sales drop 16.5 percent last year.
But in overseas markets, M-class sales fell 24.2 percent to 47,170 units through November, the latest month for which statistics are available, says market researcher JATO Dynamics.
JATOs analysis includes 50 countries outside the US, primarily in Europe.
Its a similar story for the GL class, the latest addition to Vances lineup. US sales of the premium SUV fell 11.6 percent to 23,328 in 2008.
Yet outside the US, GL-class sales tumbled 35.6 percent to 6,636 units, according to JATO. Taken together, overseas sales of the three models produced in Vance, the M class, GL class and R class, dropped 25.7 percent through November.
R-class sales are much weaker, but even counting them, US sales arent the reason for the production cuts, says Ernst Lieb, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, the companys sales arm.
Sales in the US are holding up, and the M class is currently up, he says. There is a worldwide slowdown and uncertainty. If you look at the major markets -- the UK, Italy, Spain and Germany -- they are down.
No relief is expected this year.
J.D. Power Automotive Forecasting predicts 2009 sales of just 11.39 million vehicles in western Europe. This will include double-digit declines in Italy, Spain and Germany, the forecaster said.
When Mercedes opened the Alabama factory in 1997, the plan was to serve the US with a product designed for American customers -- the M class -- and export the remainder. But SUVs became more popular than expected in other parts of the world.
Designed for America
In 2007, Mercedes exported about 65 percent of the 174,356 vehicles it built in Alabama.
Production totals for 2008 wont be released for a few more weeks, but a Mercedes spokeswoman says the percentage of exports is relatively unchanged.
Mercedes isnt satisfied with how its Alabama-built models are selling in the US, though. The last few months of 2008 were particularly bad, Lieb says.
In 2009, Mercedes wants sales to at least stay level, he says. With the M and GL, there may even be an opportunity to do better.
Diana T. Kurylko contributed