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MBUSI, Great Granddaddy of State’s Auto Industry, Turns 20

Twenty years ago this month the very first gleaming M-Class Mercedes-Benz sports utility vehicle drove off the assembly line in Tuscaloosa County.

Mercedes-Benz produced its first vehicle in Alabama, an ML320, in February 1997.

Mercedes-Benz produced its first vehicle in Alabama, an ML320, in February 1997.

Twenty years ago this month the very first gleaming M-Class Mercedes-Benz sports utility vehicle drove off the assembly line in Tuscaloosa County. The year was 1997. “Titanic” was sailing across the big screen, the Fed’s prime rate was an unthinkable 5.5 percent and the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above 7,000 for the first time.

Fast forward to modern times, and much has blossomed from that first bud. Alabama OEMs Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz combined to produce at least 1,048,597 vehicles in 2016, according to figures released by the Alabama Department of Commerce. Not only are the OEMs constantly adding jobs and facilities, but they’re continuing to attract auto suppliers who represent billions more in investment. Auto suppliers in 2016 announced new facilities and expansions worth at least $924 million and more than 2,500 new jobs, according to Department of Commerce.

Alabama’s most senior automaker isn’t content to rest. In September 2015 it announced plans for Project Gateway, a $1.3 billion expansion in Vance to prepare for production of its next-generation SUVs, many of which will be hybrids. When the expansion is complete, expected in 2018, Mercedes’ investment in Alabama will stand at $5.8 billion.

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