• Image Credit: CarPix
  • Image Credit: CarPix
  • Image Credit: CarPix
  • Image Credit: CarPix
  • Image Credit: CarPix
  • Image Credit: CarPix
  • Image Credit: CarPix
  • Image Credit: CarPix
  • Image Credit: CarPix
  • Image Credit: CarPix
Mercedes-Benz will expand its factory in Tuscaloosa, AL, to build the ML Coupe, a new crossover that will join its lineup in 2015. Mercedes will also ramp up production to build facelifted versions of the M-Class and GL-Class SUVs, lifting the factory's total production capacity to about 300,000 units annually in 2015. It made 185,000 vehicles in 2013. In addition to SUVs, the Tuscaloosa site also currently makes the C-Class sedan and the R-Class crossover, which is sold in international markets.

The plans come as part of Mercedes' strategy to capitalize on Americans' increasing demands for SUVs. The company said the utility vehicle market was up 12 percent in first half of 2014, and expects it to grow at twice the rate of the regular market in 2015 and 2016.

"We are seeing climbing demand for SUVs." – Dieter Zetsche

"We are seeing climbing demand for SUVs," said Dieter Zetsche, chairman of Mercedes parent, Daimler AG.

Mercedes is investing $2.4 billion between 2010-2015 to increase capacity at Tuscaloosa. The expansions make the Alabama site one of the largest Mercedes factories in the world. Nearly half of the cars Mercedes sells in the United States will be produced at Tuscaloosa, said Gareth Joyce, vice president of customer service for Mercedes' US operations.

The ML Coupe was previewed by a concept at the Beijing Motor Show earlier this year. The ML Coupe name isn't final, Zetsche said. Mercedes is also reportedly set to redo its SUV nomenclature. Without confirming specifics, he said the GLK could become the GLC, though he didn't give a timeline for the final naming.

"We think it would be more logical to call the GLK the GLC," he said.

In a wind-ranging interview held on the campus of the Tuscaloosa factory, Zetsche touched on a number of other subjects, as well. Scroll down to read more.
Mercedes-BenzAston Martin

Daimler's Tie-Up With Aston Martin

Zetsche said Daimler isn't interested in expanding its stake in British luxury maker Aston Martin. Daimler has a small stake, about five percent, and sells powertrains and other parts to Aston as part of the agreement.

"There is no plan on our side to increase the stake," Zetsche said in response to a question by Autoblog. "Of course, we're interested in the success of Aston Martin."

He then added, "That's not a first step, where there is a second or third step."

Autonomous Driving

"We think this development will go in steps," Zetsche said, referencing some of the features in the new S-Class. "We don't think there will be one big step where we erase the steering wheel and the brakes."

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