CHARLESTON, S.C. — The DaimlerChrysler plant in Ladson, South Carolina, just outside Charleston, has officially kicked off production of the new 2007 Sprinter van under the Dodge and Freightliner brands. The plant was inaugurated with the help of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford earlier this week. Annual production, assuming two shifts, will be 32,000.
The former plant in nearby Gaffney, with annual capacity around 22,000 units, could no longer cope with the growing demand for the van, available in versions up to Class 3. The new plant – in fact a former American LaFrance fire-truck factory, a division of Freightliner LLC that was sold a year ago – offers 42,780 square meters (460,000 sq ft) of space. Some US$35 million was invested in renovations to the facility, which presently employs 180 workers.
The apparent new benchmark in its class, the Sprinter has been sold in North America since 2001 and has captured a firm commercial customer base. Canadian Sprinters are offered only behind the Dodge nameplate and arrive here via Halifax, where final pre-delivery inspections – but no assembly — are done.
In fact, the Ladson plant is solely the result of tax law, says Wilfried Porth, head of the Mercedes-Benz Vans
business unit of DaimlerChrysler. The vans are fully built at a Mercedes-Benz plant in Dusseldorf, Germany and are then partially disassembled before being shipped to the U.S. They arrive on American shores as a body and interior, with all wiring intact, plus separate crates containing all the underpinnings – suspension, tires,
engine, transmission, etc. It’s cheaper, says Porth, to use this semi-knockdown approach than pay U.S. import
Sprinters for Canada and the U.S. are offered in three vehicle lengths on two new wheelbases. With a line-up
of cargo vans, passenger vans and new chassis cab models, the line also boasts three roof heights. Canadian
Sprinters are powered by a 3.0-liter Mercedes diesel while a 3.5-liter gas V6 engine is also offered in the U.S.
Standard equipment includes the new Adaptive ESP (electronic stability program), which features additional
sensors that now take into consideration vehicle payload, further reducing the risk of vehicle skidding and loss
The all-new Sprinter goes on sale this spring.
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