IN a massive boost for the Eastern Cape, Mercedes-Benz South Africa (MBSA) yesterday officially launched its award-winning R5.4-billion hitech production line for the new C-Class sedan. The East London West Bank plant became a motoring world focus point as the company threw an exuberant bash dubbed Out of Africa for the World. Luminaries included a representative of the German parent company Daimler AG, Markus Schäfer; Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies; provincial ANC chairman Phumulo Masualle and Premier Noxolo Kiviet.
MBSA said the luxury car would be a global best seller and symbolised hope and pride in the Eastern Cape. The first W205 rolled off the East London assembly line on Tuesday. Yesterday’s launch, held at MBSA’s Imbizo conference centre, featured top South African artists Zahara, Mafikizolo and Lebo Mashile. Zahara wrote the song Out of Africa to the World especially for the occasion.
With drama and fanfare the car was driven slowly from the back of a darkened stage with only its curvy eyebrow headlights on as Mashile reached a poetic climax, shouting: “I [the car] am an artist!”.Lights flashed as the music reached a crescendo, and the air was filled with glittering silver strips.
Davies heaped praise on MBSA, saying since 2009 the company was the biggest investor in the South African car sector. This makes the local automotive industry the biggest beneficiary of his department’s Automotive Production Development Plan (APDP) incentive programme. Since 2009, more than R22billion has been invested by car manufacturers in the South African economy.
A media tour of the complex, innovative assembly line revealed scores of whirring German-made Kuka robotic arms swinging silver parts through the air as they riveted, glued and laser-welded W205s together.
Gloved workers, representing some of the 550 new jobs created, were unzipping parts and plugging them in. The error margin is a tiny 0.5mm.
MBSA CEO Arno van der Merwe declined to give reporters the plant’s expected output but said it would double and the order book was “very strong”, with 80 to 85% of expected sales coming from the international market.
However, during the tour, staff spoke of production being ramped up to 400 a day which, for a plant working six days a week, could amount to about 9 000 cars a month.
Van der Merwe said R60million was spent on training staff and 800 jobs were created, including 400 direct jobs and 200 new technician posts.
“We will bring 10 new cutting production technologies to East London in our body shop alone.”
“This stable growth pattern will accelerate significantly with the introduction of our new C-Class and a capacity increase of more than 50% in 2015, the third shift being already implemented in 2014,” said Van der Merwe.
Elidz CEO Simpiwe Kondlo said one of the spinoffs of the C-Class project was that six new supply companies had taken up premises at the Elidz, creating hundreds of new jobs and represented an investment of R859-million.
The new C-Class retails at a cool R415 000 to R520 000.
Permission to publish the story has been sought from the Daily Dispatch.