USA: Ready for the new SUV Generation?

Dr. Klaus Zehender at the MBUSI Supplier Forum 2017

The next SUV generation will soon be rolling off the production line at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa. What are the challenges US suppliers are facing? This question was at the core of the Supplier Forum in Alabama.

Time flies. Mercedes-Benz SUVs have been rolling off the production line in Tuscaloosa/Alabama for twenty years. Now the success story is opening a new chapter. The next generation of SUVs will soon be rolling off the production line in Tuscaloosa. The basic requirements for this were created at the Supplier Forum by Mercedes-Benz U.S. International. In Alabama’s capital city of Birmingham. Around 40 miles from the plant. 200 suppliers took part.

Dr. Klaus Zehender at the Mercedes-Benz Supplier Forum in Birmingham/Alabama.
Dr. Klaus Zehender: "We are creating the requirements for the next generation of SUVs."

Dr. Klaus Zehender, Member of the Divisional Board of Mercedes-Benz Cars, Procurement & Supplier Quality, described the objective of the Supplier Forum: “We are creating the basic conditions for the future and together with our partners are building the foundations for the successful series production of the next SUV generation.” It was very important to him that everyone meets more than a year before the production launch. The goal: to create awareness of the challenges we need to overcome as part of a new project launch. In addition to capacity and HR management we must always keep one element in mind: supplier quality. Zehender: “Apart from innovations, our suppliers represent top quality, first and foremost. It goes without saying that this also applies to the US supplier industry.”

Leading the way: Wolf-Dieter Kurz, Vice President Mercedes-Benz Cars Product Group SUVs and Compact Cars.

A large part of this group is made up of companies, which have established a dedicated production site in the US. The list of suppliers includes two global players: Friedrich Boysen and Brose vehicle parts. Today these suppliers also export to other Mercedes-Benz plants outside the US. As a result, the localization rate has been continuously increased. Advantages for Mercedes-Benz: more direct communication with suppliers, increased flexibility, and shorter transfer times.


„Call us, before we call you!”


If partners intend to successfully work together for a long time, one thing is paramount: openness and honesty. Talking about it if things are currently not going as they ought. Together, we can always find a solution. However, we must talk about it at an early stage. Inga von Seelen, Vice President Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, as she very clearly and unmistakably stated in her presentation at the Supplier Forum in Birmingham: “Call us, before we call you!”

Inga von Seelen, Vice President Mercedes-Benz U.S. International: "Call us, before we call you!"

The Mercedes-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa is the traditional SUV production site. This is where the current GLE, GLE Coupé, and GLS model series are being produced. The workforce currently totals around 3,500 employees. This figure is boosted by an additional 10,000 indirect jobs at regional suppliers and service providers. A total of USD 4.5 billion has been invested in the plant since 1995. In May 1997, or 20 years ago, the first car rolled off the production line; known as the M-Class at the time. The Alabama plant was the first site outside Germany at which Mercedes-Benz produced passenger cars for the entire global market. Today, the plant produces over 300,000 vehicles each year. The next generation of GLE and GLS models will follow soon. Including plug-in hybrids. We are currently enhancing the plant in Tuscaloosa to a high-tech site for SUV production. The plant extension is in full swing and involves a new body shop, an extension of the SUV assembly facility, and modernizations to logistics and IT systems.

Jun 12, 2017
Rasmus Muttscheller