New generation of German SUVs made in USA


The redesign of the Mercedes-Benz ML series for 2012 isn't necessarily big news. It was due for a redesign to stay competitive. It's real significance goes back a ways. Fifteen years ago, a groundbreaking new idea began.

The profitable sport utility segment had taken off in the 1990s and Mercedes wanted in on the action. But they also knew that it'd be cost-effective to build their new family ride in the place where a lot of them would be sold.

So in 1997, a new factory in Tuscaloosa, Alabama began churning out a new kind of Mercedes-Benz, the first-generation ML 320. It was an instant success and started a trend.

Not long afterward, BMW began building its first SUV, the X5, at a factory in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Now Audi's getting in on the action by announcing it too will build SUVs in North America, though their upcoming plant for the Q5 will be located in Mexico.

Currency fluctuations, labor costs and incentives from states make it feasible to manufacture these vehicles closer to where they're going to be sold.

When those first MLs first started rolling out of the Alabama assembly plant some 15 years ago, there were a lot of people complaining about the quality of the vehicles.

With today's third generation of the ML, you'd be hard-pressed to tell that it was built anywhere but in Germany. In fact, if you buy one of these anywhere in the world, including in Germany, it was built at the Alabama plant.

Yes, Mercedes-Benz exports cars from the United States so does BMW. In the world economy, auto companies have found it easy and cost effective to set up shop anywhere in the world.

As for the new ML, the makeover modernizes it just enough, with the company's latest safety technology built into it. And with an eye toward performance, the AMG version can make quick work of any errand it's called to duty for, though the lofty sticker price is about double what a base ML350 starts at.

German looks, German engineering and a bit of that German prestige. All via that very un-German place called Alabama.

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