With eSprinter on the way, Mercedes-Benz in North Charleston prepares for the future | Business


Production of an electric Sprinter for the US market has yet to begin, but the Mercedes-Benz Vans plant in North Charleston is already planning the next big thing.

Next summer, the German company’s Palmetto Commerce Park plant will start rolling out the eSprinter 2.0 – an electrified model of the popular commercial van designed on the same platform as the current diesel option.

This will be the first time that US customers will be able to purchase the electronic version, which is already available in Europe.

But the automaker isn’t waiting to gauge the market’s response. Plans are already underway for a next-generation electric Sprinter that would have a longer range and its own unique design architecture – not one borrowed from a combustion-engined sibling.

Mercedes-Benz Vans hasn’t decided which of its global factories will be the first to build it, but one of the company’s top bosses in Germany says North Charleston is in strong contention.

“We are entering a period of fully electric transportation, and it will be a big change in the industry,” said Ingo Ettischer, senior manager and vice president of operations for Mercedes-Benz Vans, at an event on April 13. locally. plant.

eSprinter 2.0

A prototype of the eSprinter 2.0. The electric cargo van will be built by Mercedes-Benz at its North Charleston plant. Mercedes-Benz Vans/Supplied

“Right now we’re deciding the future of next-gen, and there’s a competition between sites over who will produce it,” Ettsicher said. “I think there’s a good opportunity (in North Charleston) because we have a lot of knowledge here and stable production.”

stay flexible

Ettischer said Sprinter sales in the United States have been impressive – they have increased by almost 62% in 2021 to more than 43,500 vehicles – and that the pickup truck is growing in popularity with last-mile delivery companies. , such as FedEx and Amazon.

No details have been released on what the next-gen model might look like, but advancements in battery technology will allow it to run for longer periods of time before recharging and make it more competitive against rivals. powered by fossil fuels.

“There are a lot of opportunities,” Ettischer said. “So we’ll see what happens.”

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Arnhelm Mittelbach, who has led the North Charleston plant since 2019, said “we are in the phase of strategic discussions that will analyze the production network” with a decision on where the next-generation Sprinter will be built. to come “in the coming months”. .”

Axel Bense Vans Mercedes-Benz

Axel Bense is the new President and CEO of the Mercedes-Benz Vans Manufacturing Campus in North Charleston. Mercedes-Benz/Supplied

Meanwhile, $60 million has so far been invested in the plant – and more to come – to prepare the assembly line to handle both diesel and electric vans.

In addition, members of the body shop and production team are sent to the van manufacturer’s headquarters in Düsseldorf, Germany, for training.

A prototype of the eSprinter 2.0 has already been built in North Charleston, and more test vans will be produced later this year before commercial vehicles start hitting the US market.

“We still need to make some hardware changes to the line,” Mittelbach said. “We still need to retain the flexibility to continue producing combustion engine vehicles, and we will do both in the next few years with the company’s goal of going fully electric.”

Electric vehicle priorities

While Mercedes-Benz Vans refuses to talk about specific customers, the eSprinter 2.0 is getting its share of attention, Mittelbach said. Amazon, for example, has ordered 1,200 electric vans for its European delivery fleet and plans to invest more for US deliveries as the online retail giant tries to reach a carbon neutral goal. by 2040.

Amazon is already one of Mercedes-Benz Vans’ biggest customers. In 2018, it ordered 20,000 combustion engine Sprinters for its US fleet.

“Moving forward, we are prioritizing the addition of electric vehicles,” Ross Rachey, Amazon’s global fleet and product manager for last-mile delivery, told Reuters.

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The electric Sprinter can be configured in dozens of variants, from the standard high-roof delivery van to a chassis cab suitable for ambulances and recreational vehicles. It will also come with three battery choices tailored to specific uses, with a range of up to 200 miles.

Last week’s event was an opportunity to salute the new president of the North Charleston plant.

Axel Bense, who most recently led Mercedes-Benz Manufacturing in Thailand, will take over the plant later this month. Mittelbach will remain at the site for a transition period until April before taking up a new role with Mercedes-Benz in Stuttgart, Germany.

Bense, who previously spent time in the United States as a project manager at the Mercedes-Benz automobile plant in Alabama, said he was “very happy to be coming back to the United States and having the chance to lead such a big factory.

“This factory still has big major projects ahead of us,” Bense said. “I’m not just coming as a CEO to sit behind a desk. I’m coming with my heart and being part of the community as much as I can. I’m happy to be here. We have a great future. “

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