Mercedes C-Class May Fall On Its Sword for American-made SUVs

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
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mercedes c class may fall on its sword for american made suvs

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]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

Consumer advocate tracking industry trends, regulation, and the bitter-sweet nature of modern automotive tech. Research focused and gut driven.

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  • Cimarron typeR Cimarron typeR on May 14, 2019

    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.

    • Big Wheel Big Wheel on May 14, 2019

      @ 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!).

  • Onyxtape Onyxtape on May 14, 2019

    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.

  • Ernesto Perez There's a line in the movie Armageddon where Bruce Willis says " is this the best idea NASA came up with?". Don't quote me. I'm asking is this the best idea NY came up with? What's next? Charging pedestrians to walk in certain parts of the city? Every year the price for everything gets more expensive and most of the services we pay for gets worse. Obviously more money is not the solution. What we need are better ideas, strategies and inventions. You want to charge drivers in the city - then put tolls on the free bridges like the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges. There's always a better way or product. It's just the idiots on top think they know best.
  • Carsofchaos The bike lanes aren't even close to carrying "more than the car lanes replaced". You clearly don't drive in Midtown Manhattan on a daily like I do.
  • Carsofchaos The problem with congestion, dear friends, is not the cars per se. I drive into the city daily and the problem is this:Your average street in the area used to be 4 lanes. Now it is a bus lane, a bike lane (now you're down to two lanes), then you have delivery trucks double parking, along with the Uber and Lyft drivers also double parking. So your 4 lane avenue is now a 1.5 lane avenue. Do you now see the problem? Congestion pricing will fix none of these things....what it WILL do is fund persion plans.
  • FreedMike Many F150s I encounter are autonomously driven...and by that I mean they're driving themselves because the dips**ts at the wheel are paying attention to everything else but the road.
  • Tassos A "small car", TIM????????????This is the GLE. Have you even ever SEEN the huge thing at a dealer's??? NOT even the GLC,and Merc has TWO classes even SMALLER than the C (The A and the B, you guessed it? You must be a GENIUS!).THe E is a "MIDSIZED" crossover, NOT A SMALL ONE BY ANY STRETCH OF THE IMAGINATION, oh CLUELESS one.I AM SICK AND TIRED OF THE NONSENSE you post here every god damned day.And I BET you will never even CORRECT your NONSENSE, much less APOLOGIZE for your cluelessness and unprofessionalism.