Car bodies, held from their roofs by giant blue tongs, began rotating amid the clang of machinery. Self-driving robot carts darted by, carrying tools and parts. The first finished vehicles, almost all of them black, reached the end of the production line, where workers in black-and-gray uniforms closely inspected them. Mercedes will begin delivering cars to German customers in December and to buyers in the United States and China early next year.
Factory 56 is also an example of how manufacturing copes with the pandemic. About 2,500 people, divided between two shifts, work at the factory. Social distancing is not that difficult considering that the factory covers an area as big as 30 football fields. On Wednesday, all employees wore masks and most also wore gloves, but otherwise the production operation appeared normal.
Mr. Källenius said Daimler, which is also a major producer of trucks and buses, did not need to close any factories for health reasons or because of shortages of parts. In some cases, local authorities ordered factories to close, he said, or the company dialed back production because of slack demand.
Factory 56 will initially produce only S-Class vehicles, but it is designed to convert quickly to produce other Mercedes vehicles. Next year the EQS, an electric luxury car that is the company’s much delayed answer to Tesla, will roll from the same assembly line. Tesla has been stealing sales from Mercedes as well as BMW and Audi, and the German luxury automakers have struggled to respond with their own electric models.
Coincidentally, Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, visited Berlin unexpectedly on Wednesday. He was scheduled to meet with Peter Altmaier, the German economics minister. The main topic was vaccines, not the factory that Tesla is building outside Berlin, according to German press reports. The ministry did not respond immediately to a request for comment.