AR5-BILLION investment by an Eastern Cape vehicle manufacturer will create 800 new jobs.
Mercedes-Benz South Africa (MBSA) chief executive designate Arno van der Merwe said yesterday the “significant investment” into South Africa involved extensive infrastructure and equipment changes to the East London production facility for the next generation C-Class.
Van der Merwe – who is also vice-president of manufacturing – was speaking at the MBSA business results conference in East London.
The company said it had increased revenue by 28.7% last year to R43.53-billion.
The investment started in 2011 and will continue into next year, although the model changeover was implemented towards the end of last year.
Of the new jobs being created, 400 will be direct employment at the factory and a further 400 outsourced to logistics company Insync.
“All 800 jobs will be directly associated with the C-Class plant,” Van der Merwe said.
“It will be the most advanced body construction facility in South Africa and one of the best in the world.”
Van der Merwe, who will be taking over the reins from outgoing MBSA chief executive Martin Zimmermann next month, also announced that the East London plant was one of the top performing facilities in the Daimler AG group internationally.
“This is proof of what is possible in the South African manufacturing market. We expect excellence and will keep on pushing and improving.”
The next generation C-Class will for the first time be made in four vehicle manufacturing facilities on four continents.
These are at Bremen in Germany, Beijing in China, Tuscaloosa in the US, and East London.
At a sneak preview yesterday, one of first models manufactured in East London was revealed to selected media.
Zimmermann said: “This is one of the first 30 of the next generation C-Class we have built since January. Now we will start building production units for actual customers.”
MBSA human resources vice-president Johann Evertse said an integral part of increasing the workforce was to sustain employment at MBSA.
“The 800 new employees are mostly drawn from the East London and Border-Kei region and will work on the C-class production lines.
“They were sourced from unemployed youth who had been trained at our technical training centre,” Evertse said.
A total of R60-million had already been spent on training for the new technology used.
Van der Merwe, who is based in East London, said it had been an “intensive time of up-skilling and we are now ready for the task at hand”.
East London-manufactured C-Class vehicles will from June be exported to 80 left- and right-hand drive markets and the biggest volume of the C-Class model in the world will be built in East London, company executives say.
The firm started its model changeover plan towards the end of 2013, following a sevenweek strike in the component and automotive sectors.
Van der Merwe said a lot had been said about the negative impact of the strike on investor confidence, but the strike also showed the “strong spirit of survival and commitment of the community”.
MBSA sent out an SMS to their workers towards the end of week seven of the strike, calling 1700 workers back.
“The next morning only five people were absent and within 30 minutes we started production. We had two 12-hour shifts working for the next seven weeks,” Van der Merwe said.
In total MBSA provides employment for 6072 people across the country.
It contributed R2.3-billion in income tax and duties to the local economy last year.