Batteries and EQ: The Success Story in Sweet Home Alabama continues

Mercedes-Benz and Alabama: It’s been a success story since 1997. In that year the first M-class came off the line at our Tuscaloosa plant – it was the first premium SUV with the star and predecessor of today’s GLE.

It’s a moment many people in the region still fondly remember today: Back then we were the first automobile manufacturer to put down roots there. The former greenfield has since developed into an established location for our industry: Numerous automotive suppliers have since settled there, and our competitors have also discovered Sweet Home Alabama as a location.

It’s clear to me this story is far from told. On the contrary, we are right in the middle of writing the next chapter and making the site fit for the future. This year our Tuscaloosa plant celebrates its 21st birthday – likely the most important birthday for young Americans, although by law in Alabama the age of majority is already attained at19. Still, many things I would simply call “adult privileges” are only allowed in the U.S. at the age of 21. The success story of our manufacturing facilities is therefore also a story of growing up.

Groundbreaking for the new battery factory nearby the Mercedes-Benz plant Tuscaloosa (Mercedes-Benz U.S. International – MBUSI/Alabama): Markus Schäfer, Member of the Divisional Board of Management Mercedes-Benz Cars, Production and Supply Chain (right), with Kay Ivey, Governor of Alabama (middle), and Jason Hoff, President and CEO of MBUSI (left)

As you may notice, when it comes to Tuscaloosa I can’t hide certain paternal feelings. That’s because I’ve seen this plant grow up and grow larger. From 2002 to 2007 I was the Head of Engineering there. In 2010 I was able to return as responsible plant manager for another three years.

It was a very eventful time – for the plant, as well as for me personally. My older son attended the day care center at Mercedes-Benz U.S. International (MBUSI). So, he grew up on the factory grounds. And my younger son was born in Alabama. I have many great memories of Tuscaloosa. I’m always happy every time I can return to my second home in my current job as Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars Operations.

We’re keeping what’s proven …

The 21st birthday is good reason to do so. When young people slowly become adults it’s often the case that some of the traits developed in childhood and adolescence are taken into adulthood. At the same time, one’s personality becomes more complex and versatile. Our plant is no different at the beginning of its 20s. In Tuscaloosa we’re keeping the proven – while we make the plant more versatile.

It remains, for example, that Tuscaloosa is of great importance to the global production network of Mercedes-Benz Cars. More than 300,000 vehicles are produced each year at this site with true Mercedes quality.

And in our global production network, colleagues from Tuscaloosa work hand in hand with colleagues from other plants – for example, the engines and gearboxes for the vehicles made in Alabama were originally built in Germany. This makes our Tuscaloosa plant a great example for international cooperation within the Mercedes-Benz team. And it’s something that also puts us ahead of competition.

Alabama is and will remain the home of our large SUVs. That’s why it’s clear: the new Mercedes-Benz GLE, which we unveiled earlier this week at the Paris Motor Show, will also be built in Tuscaloosa. And its series production was started earlier today. For me it was a great honor to be part of the production launch of the new GLE – that also has something to do with my memories of this plant.

After all, I helped ready the launches of the two predecessor models in 2004 and 2011. At launch number three I was now guest of site manager Jason Hoff and his team – thank you for the invitation and my compliments to you for the great job!

… and we’re starting off something new!

Our 21-year-old plant has “electrifying” times ahead. And this can also be understood in a physical sense. Because Tuscaloosa plays a crucial role in Mercedes-Benz’ electric offensive.

We are investing a total of $1 billion in Alabama. This will make us broader and more flexible – so we can ensure our young adult will discover completely new sides of itself. At the beginning of the next decade we will already produce electric cars under our EQ brand here in Tuscaloosa. We are modernizing the plant so that all-electric SUVs will be built on the same lines as the conventional and hybrid SUVs built here today.

It’s clear to me: In the era of electromobility Mercedes-Benz will not only produce the body, but also the heart of the car. That’s why we’re investing in a powerful battery network with eight plants on three continents. One of them will be in Bibb County, near Tuscaloosa. With that our colleagues in Alabama will soon not only build excellent cars, but also the batteries that will drive the mobility of the future.

Big wheels keep on turnin‘

We announced this investment almost exactly a year ago at the 20th anniversary celebration for Tuscaloosa. From the eight years I lived in Alabama one characteristic of the people here I remember most is that they don’t just talk – they do. In the song Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd, which is something like the unofficial national anthem of the state, the first line reads: “Big wheels keep on turnin’.” This can be sung with full heart and soul. Because it’s simply true.

At Mercedes-Benz we work much in the same way. And it’s fitting that, today, we’ve taken the next big step in the direction of batteries from Alabama: We have laid the foundation for the new battery plant. The construction work is now in full swing. And we will already be producing the first batteries there at the beginning of the next decade.

What does this all mean for the plant? Well, after an exciting childhood and a successful youth there are most certainly going to be many great years ahead. And that’s especially important for a young adult and provides many more good reasons to celebrate. I can promise I’ll want to return to my second home for the next big celebration. Or maybe sooner – when my gut tells me: I miss ‘ole ‘Bamy once again and I think it’s a sin.


Markus Schäfer is a member of the Board of Management of Mercedes-Benz Cars, responsible for Production and Supply Chain.