A couple of longtime acquaintances have reaffirmed their relationship in North Charleston.
But this is no Valentine’s Day affair. It’s all business.
Morgan Olson, which has collaborated with Daimler AG for years from its home base in Michigan, is now officially a neighbor of the German automotive giant on Palmetto Commerce Parkway.
The companies marked this latest turn in their business partnership on Wednesday. Up and running since November, Morgan Olson thought the time was right to offer a peek under the hood of its first South Carolina plant.
The factory customizes and retrofits Mercedes-Benz Sprinter cargo vans that are assembled five miles up the road by Daimler Vans Manufacturing.
It also installs walk-in truck bodies on a stripped-down, cab-only version of the popular delivery vehicles.
Morgan Olson’s $1 million investment in a large, formerly vacant building near Ashley Phosphate Road is expected to create about 120 jobs.
“We plan to have a long-term presence here,” said Mike Ownbey, president and chief operating officer. “We’re going to bring in other products in here.”
The Sturgis, Mich.-based company has been “upfitting” delivery vehicles for more than 60 years for customers such as UPS, FedEx and Ryder Systems. In the 1980s and ’90s it cranked out more than 150,000 trucks for the U.S. Postal Service.
Daimler’s launch of the Sprinter prompted Morgan Olson to set up a test line in Michigan as buyers of the vans sought to add after-factory options, such as custom shelving and heavy-duty roof racks. The experiment was a success, except that the cost of transporting the vehicles from South Carolina was too high.
The North Charleston location eliminated that expense, said John Poindexter, whose Houston-based J.B. Poindexter & Co. Inc. owns Morgan Olson and other manufacturers.
“There’s no additional freight cost here,” Poindexter said.
Claus Tritt, general manager of Mercedes-Benz USA’s commercial van unit, said Morgan Olson “is making a great investment” by setting up shop near the Sprinter plant. The company has been “a longtime upfitting partner” for Daimler because of its focus on customers, workmanship and deliveries, Tritt added.
“This is something we value,” he said Wednesday.
Ownbey said the new operation is off to a strong start, noting that its first major test was an order from Pepsi for 107 vans,
“We completed them in record time,” he said.
Wednesday’s event included an appearance by Gov. Nikki Haley, who spent more than an hour touring the factory and talking with employees.
“My promise to you is that in a year from now you’ll tell me this was the best decision you ever made,” Haley said during a speech.
Contact John P. McDermott at 937-5572.
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