Mercedes-Benz opens $500 million Sprinter plant in South Carolina

Has deal to build 20,000 Sprinters for Amazon, van’s largest customer

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Mercedes-Benz's new Sprinter plant in North Charleston, S.C., is now open for business, culminating a $500 million investment and a two-year construction period for the facility, which will build the new 2019 version of the commercial van, which it previously imported, for the North American market.

The German automaker also announced a new partnership with Amazon in which MB will produce 20,000 Amazon-branded Sprinter vans for the e-retailer's new Delivery Service Partner program, which involves leasing the vehicles to small businesses via third-party fleet managers.

The U.S. is the second-largest market for the Sprinter, and the new high-tech plant expands on the existing Mercedes-Benz Vans assembly plant with new facilities including a body shop, paint shop and final assembly, adding up to nearly 10 million square feet or 222 acres. The plant features self-driving transport systems capable of traveling 40 miles in a single shift that network with the plant's IT system via RFID technology. Also employed is a paperless, digital production documentation system, also based on RFID technology, bringing the ability to pinpoint the location of any component in the sprawling factory at any given time, which the company says helps employees better adjust to process changes and improves quality control.

Mercedes-Benz revealed the 2019 Sprinter, the third generation, in February. The commercial van gets a narrower grille, thinner and wider headlights that sit higher up and the availability of the multimedia MBUX interface or Mercedes PRO Connect, plus front-wheel drive as an option to increase payload capacity. The U.S. gets a nine-speed automatic transmission, whereas Europe will get manual options. Also planned in 2019 is a battery-electric eSprinter available in two different configurations with a top range of 93 miles, though it's not clear where Mercedes plans to build those variants.

Mercedes says the new Sprinter will be available in a whopping 1,700-plus variants, thanks to all the different body types, powertrains, body lengths and other options. Interestingly, they'll also be made under the brands Mercedes-Benz and Freightliner.

"The new plant in North Charleston combines our global expertise and experience resulting in a state-of-the-art facility in every respect," said Frank Klein, head of operations Mercedes-Benz Vans, in a statement. "It is a valuable asset that completes our global production network. Our priority at Mercedes-Benz Vans during the planning process for this facility was maximum flexibility. This enables us to react in an agile and anticipatory manner to current developments and customer desires. Additionally, it guarantees excellent quality within our proven, standardized production system."

More than 900 employees currently work at the facility, a number which is expected to grow to 1,300 by the end of 2020.

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