CURITIBA, Brazil - The opening of Renault's new Brazilian assembly plant here was a landmark in the company's history.
It is Renault's first new factory since the early 1980s, and the first Renault production site to have a supplier park alongside. It will be a model for future Renault plants.
Located in Curitiba, the Parana state capital in southern Brazil, the factory was inaugurated on 4 December by Renault Chairman Louis Schweitzer and Fernando Henrique Cardoso, president of Brazil.
It is called the Ayrton Senna plant in memory of the late Brazilian racing driver who drove for the Renault-powered Williams Formula 1 team.
Job One at the $670 million facility was on 27 November. Production of the Scenic minivan is now running at 20 to 30 units per day.
'We'll make 2,000 to 3,000 units up to February 1999, when the car will go on sale in Brazil,' said Luc-Alexandre Menard, general manager of Renault's Mercosur division. Mercosur is the economic trade area encompassing Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile.
Production at Curitiba is expected to rise to 30,000 units in 1999, and then double to 60,000 in 2000. By 2001, the plant should be producing 120,000 units a year.
The daily rate will be 100 to 150 units in one shift next year. That will increase to 400 units in 2001 with a three-shift arrangement. According to Carlos Ghosn, executive vice president in charge of Mercosur operations, Curitiba will become Renault's most efficient and competitive plant. It will have an annual production ratio of 70 cars per employee.
Around 21,000 Scenics and 7,000 to 8,000 two-box Clio models will be produced next year. A three-box Clio will follow in late 1999. This version will also be made in Renault's plant in Turkey. Scenics will be exported to Argentina, while Clios will be built mainly for the Brazilian market.
In the plant's second stage, after 2002, a new, $6,000 vehicle is likely to be made at Curitiba.
Renault is also planning to build a $100 million engine plant in Curitiba. Due to open in early 2000, it will make 1.0- and 1.6-liter gasoline engines. It will provide 80 percent of Renault's needs for its operations in Brazil and Argentina. According to Schweitzer, talks are underway with PSA about a possible joint venture in South America. PSA is due to open a plant near Rio de Janeiro in 2001.
The Curitiba plant was designed and built in record time. The excavation work began in October 1996, and the first pilot production models was built in August 1998. The building phase was led by Pierre Poupel, general manager of Renault do Brasil Automoveis, the 60-40 joint venture between Renault and the Parana state that operates the plant.
Along with Renault's strategic move into emerging markets, Curitiba's significance lies with the lean design of the plant.
'When I was given the responsibility for the project, Louis Schweitzer told me I did not have to work within traditional Renault boundaries,' Poupel said.
Curitiba is very compact. Its surface area is 110,000 square meters. This includes 36,000 square meters for the body shop; 16,000 square meters for the paint shop; 25,000 square meters for the assembly shop; and 15,000 square meters for the supplier park building.
'We were constantly aware that we had to develop a compact, Japanese-style plant,' said Remi Hursault, project manager with the vehicle engineering division.
'Curitiba is the first Renault plant without a stamping shop,' said Poupel. Stamping has been outsourced to Thera, a joint venture between Rhea, Fiat's stamping supplier in Brazil, and Gonvarri, a Spanish subsidiary of French steelmaker Sollac.
At Curitiba's supplier park, four main suppliers provide seven major modules: Bertrand Faure (seats); Ecia (exhaust systems and steering columns); Sommer Allibert-Sie-mens (cockpits and door panels); and Vallourec (front and rear axles and mounted wheels).
The suppliers deliver their products to the main plant 300 meters away, where Renault workers take over responsibility for assembly. Components for seats and cockpits come from other supplier plants in the Curitiba area. The Sommer Allibert plastics-injection plant is only 10km away, for example.
Inside the plant, the emphasis on efficiency and lean assembly continues. Aerial motorized gantries carry the car body from one station to another, allowing engineers to solve problems directly after they are discovered, even if the assembly line has to be stopped.
'It's our version of the Japanese andon system,' said Claude Mich-aux, the assembly shop manager.
To ensure leanness, a single model of robot, made by Comau, Fiat's machinery division, is used throughout the plant's shops. In a new style of supplier agreement, Comau maintains its own equipment, as does paint shop supplier PPG Industries.