VANCE, Ala. — The president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, Jason Hoff, showed off the first M-Class SUV to roll off the line in Alabama as the plant in Vance marked that vehicle's 20th anniversary.
Its license plate reads "JOB 1" and its white body is covered with signatures of the 850 workers who assembled it in February 1997.
"It's a special occasion for our operations here that shows the success that we've had over the last 20 years and the growth that we've had — we built over 300,000 cars last year," Hoff said. "It shows what we can accomplish here in the state of Alabama."
Mercedes now employs 3,500 people and has built more than 2.5 million vehicles in Alabama.
"Tuscaloosa was our first major production facility outside Germany and the nucleus of the automotive industry in Alabama," Markus Schaefer, a member of the Divisional Board of Mercedes-Benz Cars, Production and Supply Chain Management, said in a news release. "Meanwhile, the site has become an important part of our global production network."
Gov. Robert Bentley said in a statement that the state's partnership with Mercedes is stronger than ever before.
"The confidence that Mercedes has shown in our workforce and in the positive business climate we have created in the state has allowed the auto industry to continue to grow in the city of Vance and beyond, making Alabama one of the top auto-producing states in the country," he said.
Mercedes-Benz models at the plant include the GLS SUV, C-Class sedan, GLE Coupe, and the GLE — the name since 2015 for the M-Class.
Mercedes' next-generation SUVs will be made in a new $1.3 billion expansion, which is nearly twice the investment another German auto maker, Volkswagen, is making in Chattanooga to build its new Atlas SUV.
"The building has been finished. We're getting ready to install equipment," Hoff said.