DETROIT -- Mercedes-Benz will expand its Tuscaloosa, Ala., plant to switch production of all C-class sedans for North America to Alabama from Germany starting in 2014.
Mercedes anticipates annual production volume of 80,000 units of the next-generation C class, enough to supply the Canada, Mexico and U.S. markets, said Ernst Lieb, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, in an interview with Automotive News.
Daimler AG Chairman Dieter Zetsche first unveiled the plans to move the C-class to Alabma in remarks made last month.
Other body styles, such as the station wagon and a potential coupe, might be built in Germany or elsewhere, but Alabama would be the sole source of C-class sedans for North America.
Lieb said it was a difficult decision for Mercedes because German labor unions protested the move. But, he added, it further protects the automaker from currency exchange rates.
The Alabama plant currently produces the R class, M class and GL.
Lieb said Mercedes-Benz expects 2010 U.S. sales to increase 7 or 8 percent, in line with an overall market gain to 11.5 million units.
Having the new E class for the full year will help U.S. sales because the E class will get three new derivatives: a station wagon, a 50-state diesel and the convertible that is being introduced at the Detroit auto show.
Lieb said the E class has been successful because the pricing strategy allows incentives to remain low. The E-class lease penetration declined to 50 percent last year from 70 percent in 2008.
Mercedes also will introduce the SLS sports car in April. It will be priced at about $200,000 with anticipated volume of about 1,000 units a year.
Despite the low volume, Lieb said, the SLS will “have a tremendous halo effect on the brand.”