STUTTGART - When the Mercedes-Benz Maybach appears in 2002, it will not only be one of the most luxurious cars in the world. It will also have a touch of the M-class about it.
But don't expect four-wheel drive and a heavyweight towing capacity. The ideas the Maybach is borrowing are more to do with how the car is developed and built.
'I think we have learned something from the (M-class) Tuscaloosa project that we can use here,' says Jurgen Berghus, assistant manager for development on the car that will serve as Mercedes-Benz's answer to Rolls-Royce.
Berghus and others on the project came from Mercedes-Benz US International Inc., the venture in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, that developed the M-class sport-utility.
Mercedes' Alabama project pioneered a team approach to vehicle development that the Maybach group is using. To develop the Rolls-fighter, Mercedes brought manufacturing, engineering and design people together with marketing, accounting and human resource managers.
As with the sport-utility, the Maybach project works in a special cloistered environment, safe from interference from other business activity.
The 100 or so people in the Maybach group have their own operating space carved out in Stuttgart, in the midst of DaimlerChrysler's sprawling complex of factories and engineering buildings at Sindelfingen.
And like the Alabama project, Maybach has also been working closely with suppliers since work began. The M-class venture was unique to Mercedes because it outsourced more content and gave suppliers a larger role in vehicle development.
Mercedes has not relinquished as much content on the Maybach, but it is still bringing suppliers into the development process, said Joachim Siepenkotter, the project's senior manager for quality and logistics.
Maybach will also incorporate Alabama's Japanese-influenced production system, Siepenkotter says. In Tuscaloosa, workers are empowered to make quality judgments about the product and to constantly look for assembly-line improvements. The Alabama plant operates on a mixture of ideas gleaned from Toyota, Honda, Nissan and other automakers.
'The production system for the M-class is excellent,' Siepenkotter declares. 'The Maybach will use it from the beginning.'
He says Alabama also exposed German managers to increased departmental cooperation.