The final steel beam has been placed in the paint shop structure at the Mercedes-Benz Vans plant in North Charleston, marking a major step toward construction of the vehicle maker's manufacturing campus.
Yates Construction moved the steel beam into place on Wednesday and now plans to have all of the facility's buildings enclosed by next month.
Mercedes-Benz Vans broke ground in July on its $500 million van factory at Palmetto Commerce Park, where about 1,300 workers will make the company's popular Sprinter brand vehicles. The three-year construction schedule includes a body and paint shop, followed by the manufacturing lines — with a footprint the size of 75 football fields. Production of the first vans is expected before the end of the decade.
The company said it has hired the first training group for the new body and paint shop, and those workers are attending training classes in Charleston, Germany and elsewhere. In addition to technical skills, the training "allows a chance for new team members to immerse themselves into the (company's) culture," the company said in a news release.
The current production area and administration building cover 409,000 square feet, with the new facility adding another 1.1 million square feet under roof. The campus also will include a 2.8-million-square-foot storage area for finished vehicles. The automaker recently expanded its North Charleston footprint with the $6.77 million purchase of nearby property in the commerce park. That site will be shared with another company that will upfit Sprinter vans for customers.
"With this new, full-scale production plant, Mercedes-Benz Vans will offer faster and more individualized supply of the next-generation Sprinter to its North American customers," the company said in a news release.
Until the new plant opens, the North Charleston facility will continue to receive partially assembled vans sent from Germany, as it has since 2006. Local workers then put the vans back together for sale in the U.S.
Mercedes-Benz Vans sold a record 34,304 vehicles in the U.S. in 2016, its sixth consecutive year of record sales. That total included sales of 28,320 Sprinter vans. Volker Mornhingweg, head of Mercedes-Benz Vans, said he expects sales in the van division to top 40,000 by the time the North Charleston campus begins production.