The facility at Ladson, S.C., on the site of a subsidiary belonging to DaimlerChrysler’s Freightliner LLC, will assemble the next generation Dodge Sprinter van, which will replace the current Dodge Sprinter model in early 2007.
Since 2001, the Sprinter has been on sale in the USA under the Freightliner and Dodge brands. The all-new Dodge Sprinter brings new standards of refinement, space and performance previously not offered in the light-duty van market. The van has become even more flexible with body and engine variants meeting all requirements and adds the safety feature of the new adaptive Electronic Stability Program (ESP), being able to measure the weight of the vehicle’s load, calculate the center of gravity and adapt its responses correspondingly.
DaimlerChrysler will invest $35 million to convert the plant to van production for North American markets. Initially, 220 employees will be engaged in the production process when the plant produces its first van end of Q4 2006.
Further jobs could be created when the new van continues its success story in North America with its unique combination of fuel efficiency, car-like driving dynamics, and flexible cargo and passenger capacity. DaimlerChrysler Board member and Head of the Commercial Vehicles Division, Mr Andreas Renschler, said strong demand for the current van put pressure on the capacity of the Gaffney, SC, assembly facility where final assembly of the vehicles has been ongoing for the past three years.
“The Gaffney plant, which currently also houses a DaimlerChrysler diesel heavy-duty chassis assembly facility operated by Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation, has enabled the current van to gain a firm foothold in the North American market,” added Renschler.
It is Freightliner Custom Chassis's ambition to redeploy the approximate 70 employees presently engaged in the reassembly of the Dodge and Freightliner Sprinter product at Gaffney, into other activities that are conducted at that location.
“We have ambitious, long-term plans for the van market in North America”, stated Dr. Rolf Bartke, Head of Mercedes-Benz Vans business unit. “The Ladson location will provide an immediate increase in annual output to 32,000 units, roughly 10,000 more than is possible today in Gaffney, as a first step to react to market demand,” he added.
To allow for more volume a further factory expansion including body and paint shop is intended depending on the market development in the US and Canada.
The advantageous location of the Ladson facility also reduces in-process time since the kits, from which the vehicles are built, land directly at the Port of Charleston after shipping from Europe. The 460,000-sq.-ft assembly plant at Ladson is the headquarters and main assembly operation for the American La France fire and emergency vehicle manufacturer – a business unit of Freightliner LLC.
The American La France unit will be divested as part of a corporate realignment, and the plant dedicated to the assembly of the new van. A comprehensive logistics study, conducted by DaimlerChrysler’s Commercial Vehicles Division, found Ladson to have a clear strategic manufacturing advantage.