German automaker Mercedes-Benz has officially launched production of its new-generation C-Class sedan at the company’s upgraded assembly plant in East London.
Speaking at the launch on Thursday, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said the R5.4-billion that Mercedes-Benz South Africa had committed to investing in the plant was the largest single project investment by an automotive assembler since the inception of the government’s Automotive Investment Scheme in 2009.
“This production launch is indicative of Mercedes-Benz’s continued drive to produce high-quality products in South Africa, and of a supportive investment environment, enabled by significant levels of government support and initiatives to aid industrial upgrading.”
Davies said the government’s Motor Industry Development Programme had successfully positioned South Africa sector as a competitive supplier of exported automotive products, and the recently implemented Automotive Production and Development Programme aimed to consolidate these gains and significantly increase the volume of products being manufactured in the country.
Mercedes-Benz divisional board member Markus Sch鋐er said the new C-class was a major win for Mercedes-Benz South Africa and its East London plant.
“This plant is an important element of our highly flexible production network for our highest volume Mercedes-Benz model,” Sch鋐er said. “With the new C-Class, we’re taking automotive production in South Africa to the next level – also with regard to an innovative portfolio of technologies.”
According to the company, over 550 direct jobs have been created at the plant, with 10 new suppliers adding to the tally of new jobs created around the new C-Class.
“Close to R60-million has been channelled into training initiatives, with more than 1�200 training interventions, including assignments to various international plants,” the company said in a statement. “In addition, nearly 900 unemployed people from the Border Kei region have been upskilled.”
Mercedes-Benz South Africa CEO Arno van der Merwe said the company was introducing 10 new production technologies at its East London bodyshop alone, including aluminium skin panels, complex laser welding, roll forming for complex structural profiles, advanced rear axle carriage assembly, aluminium pre-treatment and natural fibre pressings.
“Many of these technologies also empower the local supply industry,” Van der Merwe said. “The new C-Class boasts 10 new suppliers (including three sequencing operations) who have set up shop in the country.”
East London Industrial Development Zone CEO Simphiwe Kondlo, also speaking at last week’s launch, said the establishment of a world class e-coating facility at the IDZ, in support of the new C-Class production, “heralds a significant achievement for the auto industry development in South Africa and is set to grow the total automotive investment base located within the Buffalo City Metro”.