By on May 13, 2019

Image: Daimler AG

Mercedes-Benz is reportedly considering moving C-Class production out of America to make room on its Alabama assembly line for more high-margin utility vehicles. Despite being the brand’s best-selling sedan in the United States, Mercedes knows it has to acknowledge the public’s growing propensity for luxurious light trucks.

While ignoring the present doesn’t seem like the wisest of business decisions, the market’s current trajectory is no secret. People want crossovers and SUVs and it looks as though Benz will happily provide them, even if it means icing out the still-popular C-Class before the end of next year. 

Automotive News, which broke the story, began by chronicling the automaker’s efforts to bring the sedan to the United States. Following the plan’s 2009 announcement, it took Mercedes nearly five years to actually get the thing ready for domestic production at its singular U.S. factory in Vance, AL.

From Automotive News:

It required considerable time and money to retool the U.S. assembly line and find local suppliers to finally launch the American C class in 2014. At the time, Mercedes estimated the move was creating 1,000 U.S. jobs.

Now, just five years later, the sedan appears headed out of America — a casualty of shifting U.S. consumer trends. According to industry forecaster LMC Automotive, C-class sedan production in Vance will end in the fourth quarter of 2020.

That scenario represents a new reality for a company that was long defined by luxury sedans and coupes and was once hesitant to sell a single light truck. It’s a different Mercedes. The company expects SUVs and crossovers to represent about 60 percent of its sales in the U.S. next year.

Presently, Mercedes-Benz U.S. International (MBUSI) is responsible for production of the GLS SUV, GLE crossovers, and the C-Class — all of which suffered lower-than-anticipated sales last year. While the C-Class remained the volume leader for 2018 with 60,410 deliveries, it has lost ground since 2013, when U.S. volume peaked at 88,251 units. The factory is also very close to reaching its maximum capacity, meaning MB would either have to expand the facility (something it’s already doing to support EV production) or move product around in order to escalate light truck manufacturing.

Mercedes-Benz declined to comment on the C-Class’ future, but it’s unlikely the sedan would simply be abandoned. The automaker already has a global production network for the model with factories in Germany, South Africa, and China (via its BBAC joint venture).

Still, the market’s swift shift toward crossover vehicles and SUVs should encourage Mercedes-Benz to be cautious in its planning. Back in 2009, when it initially wanted to bring C-Class production to America, the country still loved cars. Ten years on, the situation has changed. It’s not inconceivable to think it could happen again. Fortunately, there’s nothing about this alleged action that has alarm bells sounding on our end.

[Images: Daimler AG]

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12 Comments on “Mercedes C-Class May Fall On Its Sword for American-made SUVs...”

  • avatar

    Moved out of Alabama? Now I might actually consider a c-class.

  • avatar

    DubVBenz beat me to it…

    My wife’s 2015 (first year) C Class has been less than stellar in terms of reliability…. lane keeping assist keeps going out, strange rattles keeps appearing in the front vents, and recently one of the washer nut in the rear licence plate holder rusted, causing an ungainly trail of rust stain on my trunk…. luckily my mechanic found the issue and was about to get rid of the stains before it became stuck…… and this is with 65,000km on the clock….

    By contrast, her previous C Class (2012) was flawless over the 65k that she had it…. and by flawless I mean zero issues… not even a rattle to be heard…….. and yes, it was German-build……….

  • avatar

    Do not worry, you will get high quality Chinese made C-class instead (or knock off under Chinese brand).

    • 0 avatar

      Maybe. Or maybe not. I’ve been hearing South Africa was the #1 candidate for future C-Class production, especially given the U.S. vs. China tariff battle.

    • 0 avatar

      Well looks like we’ll need to go E Class and up if we want a old fashion German Build Benz……

  • avatar

    At least MB’s finding a new home for its highest volume sedan unlike GM, which simply gave up on its still popular Verano for the sake of higher-margin and overpriced Encores at the first sign of trouble.

    • 0 avatar

      The problem for GM is that none of their cars are popular world-wide. Buick and Cadillac have good volume in China, good to mediocre in the US, and nothing in Europe or the rest of the world, so if the Verano isn’t doing enough volume to keep a plant at near capacity, there has historically been nowhere else in the world for GM to build or sell the car. In contrast, MB sells a ton of C-classes in Europe, Asia, and a fair number in the Americas, so they can build and ship cars where needed and keep plants running at capacity and volume at globally profitable levels. Same with Audi and BMW, which is why they can profitably offer so many models and powertrain options, and refresh their line-ups so much more frequently than their US, Asian, and smaller European luxury competitors.

  • avatar
    Big Wheel

    Well, that’s a bummer. I had two C300’s from Alabama, a 2015 & a 2017. No assembly issues with either. And I think my 2017 was #10 on Car & Drivers list of the most American vehicles with 72% US content, including the engine that was built in Tennessee (joint venture with Nissan I think). But I understand the move to SUV’s since I just turned in my 2017 for a 2019 GLC300. Figured I would give that a try for a change after five C300’s. But I may move back to the C class in 4-5 years after it’s upcoming redesign.

    As noted in the article, MB has other plants that for years has made C classes for the US market. I’ve had cars from both Germany (Bremen, I think) & South Africa (East London) in the past. I think some of the South African units still come to the US to supplement production, & the AMG’s from Germany.

    None of the C classes made in China come to America.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    How’s the GLC experience? It was high on our list, but was just a tad too small.
    Incidentally my US born second gen ML350 was rock solid.I bought it used. I’d still have it today if my commute wasn’t so long.Avg 18mpg premium was tough to stomach. When I bought it preowned my commute was 10 miles roundtrip.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Wheel

      @ cimarron typeR,

      The GLC300 has been good so far, but honestly we only have about 500 miles on it. My wife promptly confiscated it, but that’s Ok since I’ve been driving her 2018 E300 until the lease is up next Monday. The E300 is simply stupendous for chewing up my 85 mile roundtrip for work. I work for a subsidiary of Daimler & we get substantial short term lease discounts, so we go through cars like water.

      The GLC300 drives like a lifted C class & is the same on the inside as my former 2017 C300. I don’t have much time in it so far, but it’s been good. Good ride & handling (I ordered the base 18″ rims with plenty of sidewall on the 60 series tires) on our horrible Michigan roads. Nice room in the back for our two growing sons. Cargo area is nice, low liftover height. Ingress/egress is definitely easier than a C class, which can be nice after I spend 1.5 hours in it after being stuck in traffic. The GLC is made in Bremen, Germany, & also in Finland by Valmet (contract manufacturer). They can’t make them fast enough, so I would not be surprised if Vance picked up the GLC in place of the C. Build quality on my Finland GLC is good, but it is early.

      My wife has had an ML & two GLE’s. The two GLE’s were built in Alabama, & we only had one issue in our admittedly limited time with them, a loose electrical connection to a sensor under the hood, in the first week we had it. Promptly fixed by the dealer. She really wants the new 2020 GLE, but they are not yet available for us to get. So I actually just picked another GLC for her with delivery in June after she started driving mine & liked it so much. I’ll drive my son’s Chevy for a month or so starting next week after we turn in the E300 (Sad!).

  • avatar

    I know industrial processes are common across the corporation and all, and it shouldn’t matter. But there’s just something not quite right about a premium German sedan made in Alabama. SUVs I’m OK with, because ‘murica.

    It doesn’t help that he have a MDX from Alabama that just had pitiful fit and finish issues in the beginning, but I suspect that’s more a function of the move from the Ohio plant to a new plant. I hear there were quite a number of issues for several years for the C-class after moving production to Alabama from Bremen.

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