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Mercedes Benz against coal export terminal at East London

Air pollution caused by the terminal could impact on the quality produced by its plant.

PRETORIA – Mercedes-Benz South Africa (MBSA) is worried about the possible air pollution from a planned coal export terminal in East London and the impact of this on the paintshop at its manufacturing plant in the city.

Dr Martin Zimmerman, MBSA CEO and president, told the media at a briefing on the company’s annual results that having the export terminal in the vicinity of MBSA’s East London plant could lead to air pollution that would cause “additional risk” to its manufacturing operations.

The MBSA East-London plant needs to maintain the highest possible standards, especially in the ramp-up to the manufacturing of the new generation C-Class, in production terms still called the W205, that will be manufactured in East-London from 2014.

The company will invest more than R2bn in total to get the plant ready for the new generation C-Class, already investing R371m in 2011, with R721m to follow this year and the balance in 2013.

The high quality standards also count for the paintshop and Zimmerman indicated that pollutants in the air, which can be caused by the loading and off-loading of coal at the terminal, could impact on the quality achievable.

He indicated that there has been some consultation with the other stakeholders on the establishment of the coal terminal, but believes that the issue is around how you assess the impact of such a facility.

“We couldn’t have that type of pollution. We can’t handle it in the paintshop,” he said.

Mercedes-Benz is one of the largest employers in the East-London area with over 2 400 employees and jeopardising its ability to manufacture the C-Class for export would also jeopardise those who are employed by the company.

“I don’t think we necessarily have the same understanding of risk at the moment,” Zimmerman said.

Transnet Port Terminals indicated last year that it is moving ahead with its plan to establish the coal export terminal and was aiming to export coal from the middle of 2012.

MBSA is ramping up production at its East London plant, hoping to double production capacity by 2014 when the new C-Class is rolled out.

In 2011 the plant produced 54 312 units of the existing C-Class, 4 830 commercial vehicles (including 1 446 Freightliners, 2 552 Mercedes-Benz trucks and 832 Fuso trucks) and 180 buses.

This is already a 4% increase on production figures for the previous year, with most of the investment in the plant still to come.

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