VANCE, Alabama, USA - DaimlerChrysler will stick with its Japanese-influenced factory system in the USA as it moves ahead with plans to build a new plant here.
The $600 million expansion of Mercedes-Benz US International Inc. will come as DaimlerChrysler continues to work out new factory operations in North America, Europe, South America and Africa.
Just before announcing plans to expand the Mercedes-Benz M-class plant here at the end of last month, two D/C bosses considered what kind of plant to build.
As he strolled through the Alabama plant at the end of August, Helmut Petri, DaimlerChrysler board member in charge of worldwide Mercedes-Benz production, may have made the question easier. He paused to note how workers were installing interior trim.
'You've kept it so basic, so simple,' the German executive told Bill Taylor, Mercedes-Benz US International Inc.'s president. 'When you do the expansion, do it the same way.'
The order is clear enough. Keeping the new, expanded operation the same as the existing one essentially will mean growing its Japanese-style production system. Uniformed workers study their jobs under trainers from Germany. The 'team members' are encouraged to make personalized improvements in their workstations.
The Alabama venture used these new factory methods from ideas brought in with the North American managers that Mercedes recruited from the transplant auto industry in the mid-1990s. Alabama was not the same as other Mercedes-Benz factories across the world.
Chrysler Corp., coincidentally, also was moving toward a more Japanese-influenced factory operating system. It uses such approaches as employee teams and emphasizes error-proofing production lines.
Meanwhile, for the past year, the Mercedes-Benz side of D/C has begun introducing its own Mercedes Production System at plants in Europe and South Africa. It uses practices developed in Alabama, blended with traditional practices used by Mercedes-Benz in Europe, as well as new ideas about tooling and training that are evolving out of Mercedes-Benz's other new plants in Brazil, France and South Africa.
Speaking after the expansion announcement, Petri said the Mercedes Production System rollout is nearly complete. He said the various Mercedes plants worldwide will continue to follow their own course, distinct from Chrysler's operating methods.
'Many things are the same, but many things are different,' he said of the two systems. 'The important thing for us was that we use one language worldwide. By that I mean one philosophical language. We now have plants in several places - Brazil, South Africa. It is important that we have guidelines for how we think and how we do things at the plant level.'
A critical issue at the Alabama expansion is going to be how Mercedes-Benz launches new products there. The automaker declined to reveal what it intends to do with a factory that will be capable of building 160,000 M-class sport-utilities a year, considering current worldwide sales are below 120,000 annually. But executives said hybrid versions of the
M-class are planned in the next generation of the vehicle.