MULHOUSE, France - PSA/ Peugeot-Citroen's plant here is preparing to build a family of cars to replace the Peugeot 306 range - a move that will radically change working practices at the facility.
Located in the Alsace region of France, Mulhouse is the largest plant in the PSA group. Last year it made 401,000 cars - all of them Peugeot 206s.
Mulhouse has traditionally concentrated on a single model. Now a second model is being introduced and four derivatives of that model will be made at the plant.
The additional vehicle is codenamed T5 inside PSA and is likely to be called the Peugeot 307.
It's the first car to be based on PSA's new lower-medium platform, PF2. It is due to replace the Peugeot 306 in the first half of 2001, and will be unveiled at the Geneva auto show next spring.
The new car will appear in four different body styles: three- and five-door hatchback; four-door sedan; seven-seat station wagon/ minivan; and coupe-convertible. The hatchback will be the first version launched.
Mulhouse has produced small Peugeots since the plant opened in 1972. It started with the 104, which was followed by the 205, 106 and finally the 206. For a short period in the early 1980s, Mulhouse also made the Citroen LNA.
'Mulhouse clearly must get over the hurdles of two-model production,' said plant manager Denis Duchesne in an interview with Automotive News Europe. 'You face different requirements when you make two models instead of one.'
The first organizational change will occur in Mulhouse's assembly shop in October. There are currently two assembly lines for the 206 that work simultaneously during the morning and afternoon shifts. Only one line works during the night and at weekends.
With the T5, it will be impossible to have only one line working during the night and weekend shifts.
The arrival of the T5 at Mulhouse comes as PSA reshapes its entire manufacturing organization in France. In March, Jean-Louis Silvant, then PSA's executive vice president in charge of manufacturing, said in the future Mulhouse and Sochaux would be dedicated to making medium-sized Peugeots and Citroens. The two plants are just 54km apart. Silvant is now PSA's executive vice president for engineering and purchasing.
Meanwhile Aulnay and Poissy, in the Paris area, would focus on small cars. Rennes, in Brittany, would make upper-range models.
Following the launch of the Peugeot T5, the successor to the Citroen Xsara should be the next car to be based on the PF2 platform. That car is expected in 2003.
This autumn, Rennes will start production of the Citroen C5, the replacement for the Xantia. The C5 will inaugurate PSA's new upper-range PF3 platform, and will be launched at this month's Paris auto show.
Poissy, which currently makes the Peugeot 206 and 306, is expected to drop 306 production next year.
It will then be able to increase production of the 206 to offset the introduction of the 307 in Mulhouse.
'We have chosen this geographical organization partly because we realized in the past how difficult it was to manage different levels of activity between Sochaux and Mulhouse,' said Silvant.
Mulhouse benefited from the success of the Peugeot 205 in the 1980s, and is now experiencing high levels of demand for the 206.
But Sochaux built the unsuccessful 605, and suffered from the transition between the 405 to the 406. The plant stood idle frequently - up to 46 days were lost in 1997. Mulhouse, meanwhile, stockpiled extra working hours during that time.
'This new manufacturing concept - two neighboring plants making cars based on the same platform - will make the launch of new models easier than in the past,' said Duchesne. 'It will also allow us to cope more easily with the production of a wider range of models.
'In previous years, we could not balance production between Mulhouse and Sochaux because the models made in each factory were too different. Tomorrow, it will happen very simply,' he said.
In other words, the two plants will share high-volume models while small-volume models could be attributed to one or the other dependent on individual manufacturing capacities.
With the introduction of the 206 coupe-convertible in October, Mulhouse will be making 9,400 cars a week by the end of 2000. That compares with 7,500 cars a week in 1998. Mulhouse should make 430,000 cars this year.