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Benz confirms next GL-class

Born in the USA: The first customer version of the re-designed Mercedes-Benz M-class SUV rolled off the US production line on July 20.

First new-generation M-class produced in US as Mercedes commits to a new GL-class

Mercedes-Benz logo22 Jul 2011

DAIMLER has announced it will invest more than $US2 billion to produce next-generation Mercedes-Benz C-class and GL-class models in the US alongside the redesigned M-class, the first customer version of which rolled off the line on July 20.

The German luxury vehicle giant used a special ‘Job 1’ line-off ceremony for the new M-class at its Tuscaloosa plant in Alabama to confirm plans, first announced in late 2009, to build its volume-selling C-class in North America for the first time from 2014.

The southern US factory opened in February 1997 as exclusive global producer of the M-class, before the larger seven-seat GL-class SUV and R-class people-mover models were added.

Mercedes’ larger yet sleeker third-generation M-class will be come to Australia, where the facelifted C-class range has just been launched, from the US by the second quarter of 2012.

There was no mention of a successor for the R-class, but besides Alabama and its Bremen ‘centre of excellence’ in Germany, the next-generation C-class will also be produced in Daimler’s East London plant in South Africa and by Beijing Benz Automotive Co (BBAC) in China.

Last year Daimler’s Tuscaloosa factory produced more than 125,000 M, GL and R-class vehicles, while BMW also produces its SUVs in a southern state of its biggest market, with the X3, X5 and X6 built exclusively at Spartanburg, in nearby South Carolina.

Audi will soon announce plans to establish its first North American factory – possibly in Mexico, where parent company Volkswagen last year manufactured some 435,000 Jetta and Golf models and the next-generation Beetle entered production exclusively last week.

BMW and Mercedes are currently battling to wrest US luxury market dominance from Lexus for the first time in 11 years, with BMW selling 113,705 vehicles in North America in the first half of this year, compared to 110,926 Mercedes-Benz vehicles (excluding commercials) and 88,010 Lexus models.

Globally, BMW continued its sales reign over Audi, Mercedes and Lexus in the first six months of 2011.

“We’re continuing to write new chapters of the plant’s success story with significant investments into the future,” said Daimler AG chairman and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars Dieter Zetsche at this week’s M-class production ceremony.

“Tuscaloosa was the first production location of Mercedes-Benz Cars ever outside Germany, and today it is among our best. As our ‘pioneering plant’, it is also the blueprint for our new operations in emerging markets.”

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