Mercedes purrs a `yes' to port with a lease of 10 years, plus

First direct commitment to remain in Baltimore

April 15, 2003|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

Mercedes-Benz USA has signed a 10-year lease with Dundalk Marine Terminal, with options to extend an additional 20 years, the first direct commitment the company has made to remain in Baltimore, state officials announced yesterday.

"We have an agreement that's a long-term contract," said Robert L. Flanagan, secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation. "So it's a commitment to us and a commitment to them."

Standing before a fleet of gleaming Mercedes automobiles that had just been unloaded from a cargo ship, Flanagan was joined by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and several other state officials in making the announcement.

"The port has been a great success story, and this announcement is another chapter of that success," Ehrlich said shortly after climbing out of a silver, Mercedes SC 500 convertible with red leather seats.

Mercedes has been shipping cars through the terminal since 1965, but this is the first time the company has signed a lease directly with the Maryland Port Authority rather than contracting with a third-party automobile processor.

Under the deal, Mercedes will lease 16.5 acres of land from the Maryland Port Authority. Officials said the deal gives the company the option to expand. About 82,000 Mercedes vehicles were shipped through the terminal last year, and 86,000 are expected to come through this year.

"It gives us more control of our vehicles," said Ulrich W. Schubert, Mercedes department manager of the vehicle-preparation center at Belcamp.

"It allows more control to get the right car, to the right place, at the right time."

As part of the contract, the luxury car company will do preparation work, such as adding compact disc players or upgraded rims to the cars, at the terminal rather than ship the cars to Belcamp, which is the current practice.

The agreement also makes it less likely that Mercedes will move to a competing port, officials said.

The port is trying to lock companies into long-term contracts.

"More of our focus has been trying to get more long-term contracts," said James J. White, executive director of the port of Baltimore.

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