Production of the latest C-Class range has begun at Mercedes-Benz SA’s East London assembly plant. Picture: SUPPLIED
Production of the latest C-Class range has begun at Mercedes-Benz SA’s East London assembly plant. Picture: SUPPLIED

Following on Mercedes-Benz’s rich heritage of more than six decades in SA, the East London plant has officially started production of the new generation C-Class.

Since the investment announcement of R10bn in 2018, the East London plant has undergone numerous upgrades in preparation for the production of the new model. At an event commemorating the start of production of the new C-Class on June 24 2021, Mercedes-Benz Cars announced an additional R3bn investment into the East London plant. It is part of a concerted effort to revive the economic growth of SA as well as the socioeconomic development of the East London region.

Jörg Burzer, Member of the Board of Mercedes-Benz Cars, responsible for Production and Supply Chain Management, said: “SA is an important location in our global Mercedes-Benz production network. The team in East London made a remarkable contribution to the international ramp-up of the new C-Class that we produce through efficient, flexible, digital and sustainable operations.

“Thanks to the exceptional work of our colleagues in SA and all over the world and their first-class co-operation, our modern plants are able to produce outstanding vehicles like the new C-Class. With our additional invest of R3bn in East London plant, we underline our commitment to contributing to the South African economy and the Eastern Cape region."

Commenting on the additional investment and start of production of the new C-Class, trade, industry & competition minister Ebrahim Patel said: “The launch of this new Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the latest generation to grace the roads of SA and the world, positions Buffalo City and the rest of Eastern Cape to continue its legacy of advanced manufacturing.

“Through the South African Automotive Masterplan, and the Automotive Production and Development Programme (APDP), we have created a platform for investment in the industry, deepening our technological expertise, creating local value chains and securing jobs.”

Andreas Engling, Mercedes-Benz South Africa CEO and Executive Director Manufacturing, welcomed distinguished guests from South African spheres of politics and business to the celebratory event of the start of production of the new generation C-Class.

R10bn investment — East London Plant Upgrades

Since the investment announcement in 2018, the R10bn was used for a wide modernisation of the East London plant. The upgrades 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.

The new body shop has been built at the East London Industrial Development Zone (ELIDZ), where vehicle parts for the new generation C-Class are manufactured, to allow the East London plant to increase volume outputs, optimise the assembly line and achieve commercial synergies.

The fifth-generation C-Class, codenamed W206, replaces the W205 which has been made in SA since 2014, and of which about 650,000 units were built. Picture: SUPPLIED
The fifth-generation C-Class, codenamed W206, replaces the W205 which has been made in SA since 2014, and of which about 650,000 units were built. Picture: SUPPLIED

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

Overall, the new buildings comprise an area of about 100,000m2. 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. The MBLA is a flagship and sustainable public-private partnership in co-operation with the National Treasury and the Jobs Fund which demonstrates the commitment of Mercedes-Benz SA to empowerment and youth development in the automotive manufacturing sector.

Since 2004, the MBLA has offered world-class quality training and transferable skills, qualifying hundreds of skilled artisans in the Eastern Cape, which is even more important in times of a pandemic when travelling is restricted.

Commenting on the successful ramp up of the New Generation C-Class, CEO of Mercedes-Benz SA and Executive Director of Manufacturing Andreas Engling said: “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. At Mercedes-Benz SA our passion drives us to be the best and it is this passion which drives our high-performance culture.”

East London Plant Sustainability

Mercedes-Benz is aware of the impact its activities and products have on the environment, and the company is addressing this in a holistic way along the entire value chain. With Ambition 2039, Mercedes-Benz strives for a fully networked and completely CO2 neutral vehicle fleet in less than 20 years, aiming to have plug-in hybrids or all-electric vehicles to make up more than 50% of its sales by 2030.

In support of Ambition 2039, locally, the Mercedes-Benz Plant in East London has embarked on numerous initiatives to help preserve the environment for future generations. 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 more than 16 MWh. 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 maximise waste reduction.

“At Mercedes-Benz SA we are committed to environmentally-friendly production. As such, we focus our efforts on the efficient use of resources,” said Engling. “Through the certification and carbon offset strategy, the East London Plant will become CO2 neutral from January 2022. As an organisation, we remain committed to a sustainable present and a bright and hopeful future”.

From 2022, the Mercedes-Benz East London plant, along with all Mercedes-Benz plants, will be CO2-neutral. This includes more than 30 passenger car and van plants worldwide and is a further step in the implementation of the Ambition2039. MBSA will ensure the replacement of liquefied petroleum gas with liquefied natural gas through compensations.

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