Vehicle plant move sought
DaimlerChrysler wants to relocate van production
By JIM DuPLESSIS
DaimlerChrysler is considering moving where it assembles Sprinter vans
from Gaffney to a fire engine plant it is vacating near Charleston -
or perhaps another U.S. location, a company official said Tuesday.
At stake for South Carolina are about 600 jobs at both sites, part of
DaimlerChrysler's Freightliner truck subsidiary.
Han Tjan, a DaimlerChrysler spokesman in New York, said the new site
would assemble Sprinters from kits, as Gaffney workers do now.
He said the 425,000-square-foot Ladson plant is an obvious
consideration, but the company was considering other options, such as
the site near Savannah it considered for a full assembly plant for
Sprinters in 2002.
"If it's an existing facility, it could be much quicker than if
there's nothing there, or very little," Tjan said. "We have an
interest in making a decision as quick as possible."
A decision could come by the end of this year or in 2006.
Of the 1,000 employees at DaimlerChrysler's Gaffney plant, about 80
assemble the commercial vans from kits. The rest make chassis for heavy
The 255,000-square-foot Gaffney plant has been packed for the past few
years because of growth in the heavy truck market, leaving no room to
assemble enough Sprinters to meet demand.
The Ladson plant employs about 525 people making fire trucks. In
September, Freightliner said it was in talks to sell the business to a
company that would move the work to LaFrance plants in Hamburg, N.Y.,
or Casper, Wyo. But DaimlerChrysler is not selling its Charleston site.
With the Sprinter, Tjan cautioned that DaimlerChrysler is not
discussing a full production facility with a paint shop, body shop and
detailed assembly. "It's fewer employees in a kit plant than a
This new act in the DaimlerChrysler Sprinter plant drama differs in
scope from its 2002 choice of a site at Pooler, just west of Savannah,
for a $754 million assembly plant employing 3,300 people.
DaimlerChrysler abandoned Savannah a year later and continued using
part of the Gaffney plant for kit assembly.
Now, the bottleneck for U.S. sales is Gaffney.
DaimlerChrysler officials predicted explosive growth for the Sprinter
after its U.S. introduction five years ago, but it has made more modest
gains. The company dropped its Dodge Ram van to make room for the
Sprinter, but instead it lost much of its share of the U.S. commercial
U.S. Sprinter sales for January through September were 14,421, double
their level for the first nine months of 2004. But Sprinter sales
account for less than 6 percent of the van market.
DaimlerChrysler's U.S. shares fell 65 cents to $49.40 on Tuesday.
Reach DuPlessis at (803) 771-8305 or email@example.com.