By on January 28, 2015

mercedes-benz-r-class-courtesy carnewschina.com

As a tyke growing up in South Bend, Indiana, my father and I would often stake out the lots behind the Studebaker factories with hopes of spotting the next generation Avanti or Lark. Too often all we spied were rows of Mercedes-Benz automobiles due to the fact that Studebaker was the U.S. distributor for the German brand up until shortly before the closure of their South Bend operations in 1963.

Yesterday it was announced that Mercedes-Benz was returning to South Bend to build the R-Class crossover at the AM General plant, producer of the military Humvee and the late GM Hummer. Mercedes-Benz once moved their headquarters from South Bend to New Jersey and soon to the South (Atlanta) and now R-Class production is moving from the South (Alabama) to South Bend. Got it?

Slow sales of the R-Class in the U.S caused Mercedes-Benz to stop offering it here in 2012 but they continued to assemble the crossover in their Vance, Alabama plant for export to China. The cavernous R-Class is naturally a great fit for chauffeur-driven Chinese consumers.

Demand for Mercedes SUVs has put a strain on their Alabama factory so the automaker chose the AM General plant to build up to 10,000 R-Classes annually beginning this summer. The facility is also located a few miles from Elkhart, Indiana and its dozens of recreational vehicle factories so an experienced assembly-line talent pool is readily available. It took the UAW about 20 seconds after the Benz press release to announce that the AM General plant is already under their control, leaving the Alabama facility as the only non-union Mercedes-Benz factory in the world.

The only remaining question is: if Benz brings back the high-performance R63, will its AMG tag now stand now for AM General?

 

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41 Comments on “Back Home Again In Indiana: Mercedes-Benz To Move R-Class Production To Its Old U. S. Hometown...”


  • avatar
    gasser

    Does anyone buy these things????
    Is a new Chrysler Pacifica next?

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      “Slow sales of the R-Class in the U.S caused Mercedes-Benz to stop offering it here in 2012 but they continued to assemble the crossover in their Vance, Alabama plant for export to China. The cavernous R-Class is naturally a great fit for chauffeur-driven Chinese consumers.”

      Boomderyago.

    • 0 avatar

      Every person I ever spoke with who had one told me horror stories about this. Save the freaky amg version, run away

      • 0 avatar
        MBella

        The R-Class has long been one of the favorite cars of the MB technician. What I never understood is that most parts are identical between the R-Classes 251 Chassis, and The ML/GL’s 164, but things seem to fail more often on the R. The R is also less common, but we sure saw them frequently at the service department.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          One of my neighbors always has some sort of fancy Euro cars in his parking spot that he buys at the local public car auction. For a while he had an R500, it listed to one corner as I presume the air suspenion bag went bad. he also has a green Range Rover afflicted with similar air ride issues. A true masochist!

  • avatar
    360joules

    This vehicle must be very desirable in China because China’s luxury taxes and the transportation costs of this vehicle’s supply chain must make this an expensive ride. As much as some anti-UAW-haterade will be poured onto this thread, the proportionate cost of labor will be low compared to dragging the parts to the factory then shipping it to China. I assume that making this thing in South Bend is only a temporary measure.

  • avatar
    JohnnyFirebird

    I hated that thing. I hated it. Haaaaaaaated it. The always-failing adjustable suspension was the biggest problem, but those cars were full of electrical flaws. It’s also the ugliest vehicle Mercedes has made until that weird SUV hatchback.

    I’ve sold two and lost money on both, but that’s another story.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      And, in my experience, the ride was terrible.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      It seems to me the maintenance headaches would be similar to a CL of same era.

    • 0 avatar
      bomberpete

      They make great-looking hearses, though.

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      Serendipitous timing. We’re looking at getting rid of our XC90 and are considering an E350 wagon, GL450 or one of these things. The problems you’re talking about – the adjustable suspension – appears on many of Merc’s products, including the R and GL’s.

      If we get an extended warranty, is there enough risk mitigation to be worth the time to pursue?

      • 0 avatar
        IndySam

        Was in the same situation, GL or R350. We ended up going with the R for a number of reasons:
        Easier to load kids and dogs
        Rode better than the GL
        Better on gas
        We ended up driving it for 3 years and got a 2012. Never had any problems with either one, and they both traveled from Indiana to Florida a couple of times, to Alabama beaches, and to the lake more times than I can count. Had the AMG wheels, which make it look better, and swapped on snow tires in the winter, and it is a tank in the snow. My youngest kid is now going into her senior year of high school and my son is off to college, so we don’t need the space now, but I wouldn’t worry at all about the mechanicals, especially the later ones. The doors are not a big deal, I taught my kids early and they’ve never banged into a neighboring car. The only real complaint I have is that the nav system is the old Comand system, which is not very good. It does what it was designed to do very well, carry 4 people and big dogs, or stuff, in comfort, or 6 people with minimal luggage.

      • 0 avatar
        MBella

        If you get a 2011 or older E350 with the 272 engine, it will be way more reliable than the R or GL. You’ll be able to buy the R much cheaper though, and if it floats your boat, the costs can be mitigated. You can buy an R with just rear axle leveling instead of the full Airmatic setup. (Airmatic is standard on the GL). If you replace the rear airsprings use ones for a 166 chassis ML/GL. The dealer will tell you they are not interchangeable, but there was a period of time when they were giving us 166 airsprings for 164/251s. The 166 part lasts way longer. If all you have is rear axle leveling, the only two other failure parts in the system are a basic valve block, (only two valves compared to Airmatic’s complicated monster.) and the compressor. All these parts can be sourced online for way cheaper than what dealers charge. If you need a rack & pinion, use an aftermarket rack. They can be had for less than $300. The factory one is outrageous at around $2000 and is garbage anyway. Their is a repair kit for the rack that fixes the common pinion seal, but I’ve seen the racks side seals fail right after on many occasions. The repair kit is around $200, and there is additional labor required. Just do the aftermarket rack. Rear shocks and front struts go bad and knock if driven frequently on bad roads. The rest of the issues aren’t usually as serious, but some things can still cost a pretty penny.

      • 0 avatar
        Car Ramrod

        My manager has owned a 2004 CL500 with the ABC suspension (which I guess is the RWD version of Airmatic) for about the last several years. The extended warranty paid over $2500 to fix the system before it expired, and the car had less than 60,000 miles on it when failure occurred.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    My neighbors two houses down have:

    Gold R-Class
    Black Scion xB (gen 2)
    Maroon Triumph TR-5
    Red Kia Soul

    They are two adults and three kids under age 15. I do not understand the thread of their choices!

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    The AM General factory seems to be the production line of doom for any vehicle line:

    – Hummer H2
    – MV-1 Wheelchair van
    – R-Class

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      Maybe some of the Benzes will show up with a Studebaker or AMC emblem on them…

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      I was going to ask if Carbon Motors planned to build their vaporware police car at that AM General plant, but I think it was going to be “built” and an old Visteon plant in Indiana.

      • 0 avatar
        Austin Greene

        Wasn’t it going to be in the old Hyundai plant in Bromont?

        Or was that some other police car vapourware?

        • 0 avatar
          Austin Greene

          Oddly enough, it was a guy named Chrysler and it was 20 years ago.

          http://www.autonews.com/article/19950424/ANA/504240778/u.s.-rep-eyes-fallow-plant-wants-to-make-best-cop-car

          I guess I’m older than I feel.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Haha. Yeah, that was a different one. He wanted to buy up all of the B-Body tooling and build cop cars.

            I grew up in Brighton, MI, and I remember Dick Chrysler. He had a big house on a lake that people used to talk about. He ran for Congress three times but only won once. He also lost a Governor race. He lost his seat to, our now US Senator, Debbie Stabenow. He was a champion of the flat tax.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          Carbon Motors was going to build a police car with a BMW diesel engine. They started in the mid-00s and were defunct by 2013 without ever making a car. They tried to get a green ATVM loan for start up money but even the DoE didn’t like thier plan.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            DoE was too busy gushing over Solyndra. Carbon Motors made the mistake of showing integrity and attempting to build a real product instead of vaporware.

      • 0 avatar
        bk_moto

        “Hey we need a brand new untested car from a brand new unproven manufacturer that may or may not exist in five years. And we need that car to have a BMW diesel engine so that both parts and fuel will be really expensive. That’ll be way better than just buying Impalas,” said no police department ever.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    One of my problems with the R Class was/is the rear doors and the same goes for the Flex. Sliding doors were apparently nixed to avoid the minivan stigma. Maybe it was engineering issues, but I doubt it. The rear doors on the R were HUGE, nearly as long as any two door Malaise cars I owned. Big doors and small children are a parking lot/garage nightmare. Big doors in narrow spaces suck.

    I understand these were not bastions of quality, even for mid-2000’s MB’s. And that they shared much with the Chrysler Pacifica, including its electrical issues. I wouldn’t mind a Mercedes van that isn’t a Sprinter, so it will fit in a garage. The refreshed front end looks better, but it is an odd vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      So what did it share with the Pacifica? It’s a totally different platform.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        Isn’t that weird everyone thought the Pacifica and the “R” were the same because they were developed together and looked so much alike. When in reality they were totally different vehicles

      • 0 avatar
        gearhead77

        Well, you learn something new. I always thought the R and Pacifica shared a common platform.

        • 0 avatar
          MBella

          The R-Class’s 251 chassis is has a longitudinal RWD based drivetrain similar, and shares most of it’s parts and design with the ML/GL’s 164 chassis. The Pacifica was transverse FWD based drivetrain.

          I do think that Diamler missed an opportunity. The could have re-skinned the Pacifica as the R-Class. I think it could have done just as well, and they could have saved on the development costs.

    • 0 avatar
      CreepyMayne

      The Pacifica was based on the Chrysler minivan chassis, built right alongside the vans at the Windsor assembly plant. My parents had one, and it was way more reliable than the R class ever wished it could be. I don’t know of any electrical issues that you guys are talking about, it had the typical Chrysler clunks/bangs in the front end suspension after 50k, but that was to be expected of Daimler era Chrysler products.

  • avatar
    darkwing

    Does China get a long-wheelbase E-Class wagon, or just the sedan? If the former, what’s the advantage to the R-Class?

  • avatar
    vent-L-8

    I’m glad to see Indiana getting more manufacturing, they have been through some lean years.

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