If you wanted to perfectly describe the post-recession automotive wasteland, you couldn’t find a better metaphor than the original HUMMV makers being reduced to building discontinued Mercedes minivans in rural Indiana, for China.
I came to learn about this partnership in 2016, when I kept seeing truckloads of Mercedes R-Classes in good condition on Interstate 80. The first time it happened, I assumed they were off-lease ones headed to auction. The second time, I thought maybe they had never been sold.
The third time, I finally found this answer, and you can find more detail in this Truck Trend article from the time.
This deal, it should be noted, was inked in 2015. That’s three years after the ill-fated, somewhat poorly received R-Class’s last model year in the United States. To put it gently, it was not van time.
At least, not in the Western world. Despite its failure here and in Europe, the R-Class sold well in China. So well, in fact, that Mercedes didn’t want to close up production and leave money on the table.
It was too late in life, though, to move it to China. And while it was doing well, Mercedes was expanding its SUV lineup and didn’t have room for a China-only model at its Tuscaloosa, Alabama plant.
AM General, though, had a lot of factory capacity and not a lot to build. The company’s Mishawaka, Indiana had produced the Hummer H1 and H2. While the company was still producing the Mobility Ventures MV-1—a piece of weird history in its own right—there was definitely room for more work.
This also represents the first time that a Mercedes was assembled by unionized workers in the United States, according to Truck Trend. The company’s Tuscaloosa plant is not unionized, but AM General’s Mishawaka plant workers are represented by the United Auto Workers.
R-Class production ended there in 2017, marking three years of it being a China-only vehicle, and today the model has been discontinued entirely. The world, it seems, is not fully ready to embrace the luxury minivan.
So, if you’re ever asked what plant has produced the weirdest variety of cars, I think this is an obvious answer. The NUMMI-cum-Tesla plant may have produced the Toyota Tacoma, Geo Prizm and Tesla Model X, but when it comes to weird it’s hard to beat the Hummer H1, Mobility Ventures MV-1 and Mercedes R-Class combo.