First Mercedes-Benz Battery Factory Opens in Alabama

Mercedes-Benz is a big step closer to building electric SUVs in Alabama with the retooling of its Tuscaloosa plant and addition of its first U.S. battery plant to produce the lithium-ion packs that will propel the new EQ brand models. Both the three-row premium EQS SUV and the smaller two-row EQE SUV will be built at the Tuscaloosa plant that has made large SUVs since the M-Class in 1997. The global debut of the EQS SUV—the electric equivalent of the Mercedes-Benz GLS—is scheduled for April 19 and production will begin in a few months.

Mercedes Money

In 2017, Mercedes announced it would spend $1 billion in Tuscaloosa to expand the manufacturing hub to build electric SUVs on the same line as combustion-engine-powered vehicles. The money was split three ways. Mercedes would retool the vehicle assembly plant that was making the GLS, GLE and GLE Coupe SUVs for the global market as well as the C-Class sedan for the U.S.

Today the plant continues to make the GLE, GLE coupe, GLS, and added the Mercedes-Maybach GLS, as well as plug-in hybrids. In 2020 the automaker confirmed it would stop building the C-Class in the U.S. to make room for the electric SUVs which are about to begin production. The Tuscaloosa assembly plant has built more than 4 million vehicles since 1997, including 260,000 SUVs in 2021. About two-thirds of the vehicles are exported.

Mercedes Gigafactory No. 6

A large portion of the investment was used to build the battery plant in Bibb County that celebrated its official opening today. The battery plant adds about 600 jobs to the manufacturing hub in Alabama that already employs about 4,500.

The battery plant is carbon neutral and expects to get all its electricity from renewable sources by 2024 when planned solar thermal energy projects should be approved and in operation. The plant collects rainwater and uses forklifts powered by hydrogen. There are plans for a battery recycling center, as well. The lithium-ion batteries contain nickel, cobalt, and manganese in a 8:1:1 ratio to keep cobalt content to 10 percent. The battery packs of up to 12 modules each are assembled on a single 984-foot line with more than 70 workstations. The plant uses battery cells from several suppliers, and by mid-decade will source cells from Envision AESC.

The U.S. plant becomes the sixth of eight planned gigafactories for the automaker by 2030. Collectively, the eight plants will have 200 gigawatt-hours of capacity. The other five plants are in Kamenz and Stuttgart, Germany; Beijing, China; Bangkok, Thailand; and Jawar, Poland. Mercedes has not said where the final two factories will be located.

The third area of investment was for a new Global Logistics Center for stronger supply chain management. It is completed at a time when all eyes are on the fragility of the supply chain. The center was also designed for after-sales support, including the export of car-kits to overseas assembly plants.

Mercedes Going Full-Electric

The investment will help Mercedes-Benz meet its goal of being fully electric by 2030. The automaker has said all newly launched architectures will be electric-only from 2025 at which time the automaker expects battery-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles to account for half of all sales, with pure EVs making up most of the volume. The luxury carmaker says it will have introduced an EV alternative to every vehicle in the current portfolio by that time.

Mercedes created the EQ brand for its growing lineup of electric vehicles, starting with the 2022 Mercedes-Benz EQS sedan which is built in Sindelfingen, Germany. The sedan went on sale in the U.S. in late 2021 with a choice of the rear-wheel-drive EQS450+ or the EQS580 all-wheel-drive model. The 2023 Mercedes EQS SUV, with its optional third row, rides on the same EVA2 platform and is expected to use the same 107.8-kWh battery pack and offer the choice of a single motor or a dual-motor setup for all-wheel-drive capability. Like the sedan, the EQS SUV will likely also have standard air suspension with electronically adaptive dampers, rear-wheel steering, and a brake system that primes the pedal for the switch from regenerative to mechanical braking. The smaller 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQB, the first electric compact SUV from Mercedes-Benz, is on a different platform and is assembled in Mexico for the North American market.

By the end of the year, Mercedes will be building nine EVs at seven locations on three continents. By 2025 Mercedes will have three core EV platforms. Midsize and larger vehicles will use MB.EA; AMG.EA is for performance EVs; and VAN.EA is for the lucrative commercial van lineup. A fourth platform—MMA—for small cars and SUVs will come later.

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