Grapevine: A peek under the hood at North Charleston van plant’s production goals

A Sprinter van makes its way through the manufacturing process at the Mercedes-Benz Vans plant in North Charleston. The German company, which currently reassembles vans imported from overseas, is building a $500 million facility to make Sprinters from scratch at its Palmetto Commerce Park site. Provided/Mercedes-Benz Vans

Mercedes-Benz Vans is offering a road map that shows the way to its production goals for its new North Charleston campus.

The German automaker disclosed the details in a permit application.

According to the document, which was filed last week with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, the company plans to ramp up production of its Sprinter commercial vehicles in three phases.

Once construction of the $500 million manufacturing site in Palmetto Commerce Park is finished next year, Mercedes plans to build a maximum 50,544 vans annually.

By 2024, output will increase to a maximum of 74,880 vehicles per year, though "future market conditions could shorten the gap to less than 72 months" if Sprinter sales in the U.S. outpace projections, the company said.

The final phase, beginning in 2028, will put annual Sprinter production at a maximum of 124,800 units. By that time, Mercedes-Benz Vans will have hired 1,300 workers at the manufacturing site it announced in 2015.

The company sold 24,352 Sprinters nationwide through November — about 4 percent fewer than a year ago. But it could still make up the difference in December, traditionally a strong sales month for the distinct-looking utility van.

Fallout from the failed V.C. Summer Nuclear Station expansion could hurt the solar-power industry. Provided.
Panel discussion

A funny thing happened when AstenJohnson Inc. chairman Bill Finn went to get a solar system installed. The installer gave him an estimate of how his power bills would compare with and without the rooftop panels.

Looking through the numbers, Finn noticed that the solar firm was predicting 3 percent-a-year rate hikes from South Carolina’s electric utilities.

He quickly decided that wasn’t realistic — and he should know: Finn sits on the board of Santee Cooper, the state-owned utility that provides electricity for more than 2 million people.

It’s an interesting time for solar in South Carolina, in part because the political fallout from the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project could actually reduce the incentive for investing in the alternative energy source.

The reason is that South Carolina Electric & Gas is likely to cut its power rates at least slightly next year in response to the blowback. And Santee Cooper has vowed to hold prices steady for a few years, a decision that will trickle down to customers of the 20 cooperatives that buy power from it.

While the impact remains to be seen, Santee Cooper says solar is starting to gain traction on its system. About 178,000 customers get their electricity directly from the Moncks Corner-based power provider, but few have taken the solar plunge. At last count, slightly more than 200 homes and businesses had signed up. But officials say the business is now starting to to pop.

Finn suggested the likelihood of federal tax code changes might have given customers the nudge to buy a solar system.

But then again, ratepayers across South Carolina have been thinking especially hard about their power bills lately: The V.C. Summer project was canceled in late July, about a month before Santee Cooper noticed the uptick in solar inquiries.

BMW’s manufacturing campus in Greer is outfitting the new X7 SUV in a camouflage wrap while the vehicle undergoes pre-production testing. Provided/BMW
Under wraps

The first pre-production models of BMW’s new X7 SUV are rolling off the assembly line at the automaker’s South Carolina plant. But it will be months before the public gets a good look at them.

That’s because the prototypes are fitted with a camouflage wrap designed to conceal the design details as long as possible. BMW also isn’t revealing technical information about the vehicle, such as fuel consumption.

Over the next few months, the pre-production cars will undergo certification and endurance testing under extreme conditions in the Death Valley desert and the ice- and snow-covered slopes of Scandinavia. The first models are expected to be available to consumers in late 2018.

"This is a very special vehicle and our employees are looking forward to yet a further member of the X family," Knudt Flor, head of BMW’s Greer plant, said in a statement.

The X7 will join four other X-model SUVs built in Spartanburg County for domestic sales and exports to 140 foreign countries.

BMW has invested $8 billion the plant since it opened in 1994. The facility employs more than 9,000 workers, makes more than 400,000 cars per year and is a key customer for the Port of Charleston, exporting about 280,000 vehicles annually though its Columbus Street Terminal.

Southerly closed its Mount Pleasant restaurant (above) in 2016. A Minneapolis-based dining concept called Butcher & Boar is renovating the space. File/Grace Beahm/Staff

A Minnesota-to-Mount Pleasant dining deal that had been simmering on the back burner for several months appears to be coming to a boil.

Contractors for Butcher & The Boar have started renovating the vacant Southerly space in Brookgreen Town Center at 760 Coleman Blvd., according to a construction notice filed with Charleston County this month.

The Beach Co., which owns the property, announced over the summer that it had inked a deal to lease the 9,723-square-foot space to the Minneapolis-based restaurant operator. The East Cooper location will include a beer garden.

An opening is scheduled for early next summer.

The tenant, MP Restaurant LLC, is registered to Douglas Van Winkle, one of the co-founders of the original Butcher & The Boar. He and a partner launched the business in 2012 "with a simple idea," according to the restaurant’s website: "Create a festive and communal dining experience with American craft food, bourbon and beer."

"It has consistently been ranked among the Twin Cities’ top restaurants," Minnesota’s Star-Tribune newspaper noted last year.

Butcher & The Boar’s Mount Pleasant outpost previously was leased to Southerly, the onsite dining establishment operated by Southern Season, a gourmet food and kitchenware retailer. Both businesses were closed in mid-2016 after three years. The adjacent Southern Season space, a former Food Lion supermarket, remains empty.

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