Mercedes-Benz begins East London production of new C-Class

30 June 2021 - 20:15
Minister Ebrahim Patel (left) and Mercedes-Benz South Africa CEO Andreas Engling.
Minister Ebrahim Patel (left) and Mercedes-Benz South Africa CEO Andreas Engling.
Image: Supplied

Mercedes-Benz can lay claim to more than six decades of local manufacturing at its East London facility in the Eastern Cape.   

That legacy looks poised to continue, as production of the latest-generation C-Class (W206) has officially commenced at the plant.   

At an event last week, it was announced that a further R3bn would be invested into the factory, bolstering the R10bn investment that was made in 2018 on upgrades in preparation for the model.   

In a statement, the company declared the move as a sure sign of commitment to the market, as well as indication of a concerted effort to revive the economic growth of South Africa and socio-economic development of the East London region.  

Jörg Burzer, member of the board of Mercedes-Benz cars responsible for production and supply chain management, remarked that our country remains an important location for the global production network of the car maker. 

Minister of trade, industry and competition, Ebrahim Patel, was in attendance. He credited the Automotive Masterplan and the Automotive Production and Development Programme (APDP) as successful in deepening local technological expertise, creating local value chains and securing jobs.

 Upgrades to the plant include a new body shop, which has been designed for higher capacities and features more than 500 “Internet of Things” Industry 4.0-enabled robots.  

To increase volume outputs, optimise the assembly line and achieve commercial synergies, a new Body Shop has been built at the East London Industrial Development Zone (ELIDZ), where vehicle parts for the new C-Class are manufactured.

The all-new Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
The all-new Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
Image: Supplied

More than 700 tons of steel have been installed for the additional three lines in the assembly shop and a new logistics warehouse. Employing new methods such as art application technology, the new paint shop is more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.  

Overall, the new buildings comprise an area of approximately 100,000sqm. This reflects an addition of two thirds of the already existing buildings for the passenger vehicle production.  

At the Mercedes-Benz Learning Academy (MBLA), additional robotics were installed for training. MBLA is a flagship and sustainable public-private partnership in co-operation with the National Treasury and the Jobs Fund.  Since 2004, the MBLA has offered world-class quality training and transferrable skills, qualifying hundreds of skilled artisans in the Eastern Cape.

“Despite a tough year in 2020, we were able to accomplish what we had planned. To date, all of our buildings are complete and we are ready for the production of the new generation C-Class in full force,” said Andreas Engling, Mercedes-Benz South Africa CEO and executive director of manufacturing.   

The brand has a strategy dubbed Ambition 2039. By that time, the manufacturer aims to have a carbon-neutral fleet. It forecasts that by 2030, plug-in hybrids and fully electric vehicles will make up more than 50% of its sales.

In support of Ambition 2039 locally, the Mercedes-Benz plant in East London has initiatives to help preserve the environment. The new paint shop is more energy-efficient, reducing energy consumption per vehicle by 25%.  

The new buildings have been equipped with energy-efficient LED lighting, which uses up to 90% less energy per lumen output. Through the implementation of energy efficiency measures and the adoption of more efficient technologies and processes, the plant produces an annual saving of over more than 16MWh. This is the equivalent of the annual energy usage for the East London Plant body shop and the logistics buildings put together.  

Additional plant sustainability initiatives include battery storage containers; rainwater recycling with a water storage of 1 million litres; green areas which have been installed on the corridors and the roofs as well as soluble labelling which is being used on production parts packaging to minimise waste.

“Through the certification and carbon offset strategy, the East London plant will become CO2 neutral as of January 2022," Engling promised.