A visit to the Ford Lommel Proving Ground… a unique experience!  

As a member of the AJBA, or Association of Belgian Automotive Journalists we were kindly invited by the dynamic Ford PR department to spend a day at its Proving Ground in Lommel. Since 1965, FORD LPG is the only vehicle proving ground of Ford of Europe.

Impressive it is: its total track length is not less than 105 km, it operates 24 hours per day and this 7 days per week. The annual test mileage lies between 5 and 10 million km. Constant maintenance and further investments over the last 10 years cost some 50 million Euros.

The team is also considerable of course: not less than more than 90 engineers, more than 70 mechanics, close to 80 test drivers, more than 30 testers of electronic systems, 25 maintenance people and more than 20 supporting staff are active here.

It is good to know that the test track and its facilities can be hired by other manufacturers and suppliers for testing purposes and driver trainings can also be booked.

New models are subjected to a series of intense six-month durability tests at this Proving Ground in Belgium. As said, prototypes cover up to 10 million kilometres (6 million miles) – 250 round-the-world trips – in total, testing on the track, in Ford laboratories at temperatures ranging from -40 C to 50 C and at locations around the world.

The scope of what has to be tested on a car has of course also grown and widened over the years, as cars have now a wide array of driver assistance and aid systems, taking also further steps towards autonomous driving. Hence the ever growing team of testers of these electronic driving aid and of course also infotainment systems.

Testing the torsional rigidity, anti corrosion and mechanical solidity of the cars is of course still a very important part of the testing procedure. So the proving ground has every imaginable road surface in store to test all this, as well as corrosive salt spray tunnels and mud baths. A high speed oval is of course also present. Maximum speed in the banked curves is 220 km/h, on the straights a good 240 km/h. Of course one can go (much) faster, but then the tyres start to warm up too much, impairing test results and comparable measurements. We sum you here the main activities of the proving ground:

o             Durability & Corrosion Testing  

o             Functional Testing like vehicle performance, brake performance , etc.

o             Software & multimedia Testing  

o             Driver Assistance Technology Testing  

o             Vehicle Dynamics Testing & Development  

o             Noise, Vibrations & Harshness Testing & Development

o             Manufacturing Quality Fleet testing

o             Drive Training : internal only until 2021, external as from 2022  

But that is not all. Before a single new vehicle reaches a customer, prototype models cover more than 500,000 kilometres (300,000 miles) of tough simulated customer driving. Called Voice-of-the-Customer (VOC) tests, these extensive evaluations are conducted by 100 members of the public who follow routes and operational procedures designed by engineers at Lommel that closely resemble those of target customers.

Fine handling is the hallmark of every Ford…

The DNA of every Ford car is embodied in its agility and fine, pleasurable handling, and therefore the proving ground has a wonderful handling course. An enormous circular skid path is also present and skid cars with hydraulic lifters which control and vary the grip on all four wheels are provided for test driver training.

Indeed, test driver training is understandably a very serious affair, tests have to be accurate, reliable, comparable with each other and identical in their procedure. The test drivers are helped in this by signals along the respective test tracks, indicating the speed to be driven and the gears to be chosen.

Driving is believing!

We were first taken along the various test tracks in Transit vans, being seriously shaken and stirred, but appreciating here already the enormous solidity and impressive road qualities of these vans. Then we had a stint on the training skid path with the skid cars, only to be treated after a light lunch to have a go behind the wheel of the Ford products. Your servant had the opportunity to put the hybrid Puma through its paces. We were invited to perform a high speed slalom test and braking test, in the wet of course. I must admit that the Puma was totally impressive for me, with excellent handling, enormous grip and power to match. A good reason to present you soon in these columns further test reports and driving impressions of Ford products!

Icing on the cake was a very fast tour along the handling course and the high speed oval with a Ford test driver at the wheel. Your servant jumped as passenger into the sleek Mustang 5 litre V8, and needless to say this was a very exhilarating drive, where the formidable handling qualities and balance of this Mustang were amply shown…

A wonderful day, which will be long remembered, and the DNA of Ford cars, its excellent handling and agility proved an eye opener for me…

Soon more driving impressions of Ford cars in these columns!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Our BMW Z3 successfully repaired…

Our pristine Z3 is now fit for the road again…passing the technical control without a hitch.

In these columns you could read about the play in the driver’s seat which prevented our shining mount to pass the annual technical control. As the bushes were very probably worn and the repair was rather intricate as the seat mounts have to be moving strictly parallel when propelled forward or backward by the electric motor, we decided to leave the repair in the expert hands of BMW dealer Jorssen Zuid.

The bushes on the driver’s seat were completely worn out, actually virtually shredded!

I first thought that only the driver’s seat had play, but closer inspection by the mechanics of Jorssen revealed that the passenger seat was also rocking fore and aft in its rails. This was not noticed by the inspectors of the technical control.

Then they ordered the parts necessary for the repair, which were 2 sets of guide bushes for 23,96 Euro each (ex VAT) and 8 six sided screws at 7,27 Euro each, again ex VAT. It brought the total cost of all the necessary parts for this repair to 106,08 Euros, ex VAT.

The bushes on the passenger seat witnessed the same fate…

The Jorssen mechanics then proceeded to remove the seats from the car. Removing and again installing the seats cost in total 35 minutes, the repair itself, disconnecting and reconnecting the electric motors, replacing the bushes, reinstalling everything and ensuring than the seat attachments are perfectly parallel cost in total 1 hr. 10 minutes.

Finally a 10 minute driving test was executed. The total cost of the repair, ex VAT, amounted to 316,17 Euros.

Very reasonable we would say, and BMW Jorssen is not only to be applauded for its diligence, it is also very comforting to see that the parts for a 1997 built BMW are readily available.

We asked the people at Jorssen also to take some photos of the worn out bushes, for the sake of our report here, showing indeed that they were completely worn out and even literally torn to pieces.

Fit for the road again for another year with a green technical control card…

This shows again how it important is for premium – and actually for all car manufacturers – to test and inspect the quality of each part in their products. Cutting corners in quality can impair not only the reliability, but also the security of their products.

Needless to say that the subsequent technical control went without a hitch, and our beloved Z3 is again totally fit for another year on our roads. It is even allowed to drive around in the emission zone in Antwerp until 2024, and this also puts a broad smile on our face…

We just let you look at the photos here, and soon we will proceed with a thorough cleaning, protecting and rejuvenating of the leather of the nice seats of our Z3…

Stay tuned!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Citroën set to conquer India and strengthen in South America with a totally new C3…designed and built in and for these markets…

Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares has bold plans for Citroën and its role within the group. The iconic brand is set to sharpen up its international strategy, and therefore unveiled on September 16 a totally new C3, according to Citroën “a versatile hatchback measuring less than 4m in length”. It will enable the brand to expand in India and consolidate its presence in South America.

This new C3 is very important: not in the least because it is the first model in a family of three vehicles aimed at the international market. It is developed and produced in India and South America and which will exclusively sold in those two regions over the next three years.

New C3 is conceived as a modern hatchback designed to meet the needs and road conditions of the two regions, offering comfort and connectivity to progressive customers in search of peace of mind and prestige.

Does this mean that Citroën, which since many decades has developed a tradition of providing affordable and reliable mobility (one has only to think of the iconic 2CV…) through ingenuity and excellent engineering focusing on effective solutions, will use its design and engineering experience in India and SA to strengthen and refine its acumen and expertise as manufacturer of affordable transport in our markets?

What Citroën CEO Vincent Cobée has to say about the brand and its international strategy…

The dynamic Stellantis PR department in Belgium offered us to participate in a media roundtable conference with Vincent Cobée, and of course the abovementioned question was burning in our minds.

Here follows what Mr. Cobée answered:

“Citroën is about innovation, well-being and you can call that humanism, you can call that audacity, you can call that a bit of a militant brand. We will remain like this, translated into the Indian ecosystem. We are not a petrolhead brand (although, we should note here, that Citroën played a favorite role in international rallies…) but we will be true to our global DNA. We will be competitive in India, which means developed, manufactured and distributed in India.

Having said this, we have entered in Europe in the car industry in Europe a rather complex period, where the technological requirements imposed by the European legislation are going to make the cars more expensive, and this at a time where there is an economic crisis looming, and at the same time the availability of freedom of movement is going to become more and more important with the pandemic which we have been living for the last year or so.

If you put those three things together, there will be an aggravated tension into affordable mobility.

So Citroën, as a social progressive, innovative brand, has a role to play here. The environment is obviously different from what we see in India or Brazil and those represent different challenges, but the spirit of maintaining and enhancing the freedom of mobility in an environment where there is a mismatch between the (consumer) appetite and the regulatory cost, this is something that we will address with ambition.

So every lesson that we can learn from our development in fast going markets outside of Europe will be helpful and indeed used…

Inspired by SUV architecture…

Now let’s turn to the new C3. It is built for international markets, where roads are not always in top condition. So this Citroën adapts to the terrain by drawing inspiration from SUVs for its ground clearance, high bonnet and elevated driver position.

In addition to Citroën’s trademark comfort and market-leading spaciousness, its clever design meets the wishes of a young, tech-savvy public, grown up with smartphones, which are totally integrated and connected to an XXL 10” touchscreen.

But that is not all. Set to be launched in the first half of 2022, New C3 will also offer an unprecedented customer experience, including innovative services and the opening of a dedicated sales website in certain markets.

India is both promising and (very) important…

India is a rather new market for Citroën and one with significant potential that will soon be the third largest in the world.

The brand announced its arrival in 2019 and launched its first import model at the start of 2021: C5 Aircross. As a new market player, Citroën is initially focusing on large metropolitan areas. As said here earlier, it offers a top level customer experience.

Citroën products are positioned at the forefront of the Indian market, thanks to a strategy of high-level local integration (more than 90%) based on the two joint venture agreements between the Stellantis Group and the companies in the CK Birla Group (car assembly and distribution and power-train manufacturing).

The automotive market in India is growing rapidly and is expected to reach over four million cars sold annually by 2025. B-segment hatchbacks represent nearly 23% of this market.

The new C3 is meant to appeal to customers for whom their car is a reflection of their personality. A car that they can customize however they wish, which is a strong expectation on the Indian market.

In addition, the compactness (less than 4m to fall into a lower tax band), agility, versatility, on-board space, comfort and connectivity will improve the experience of traffic conditions which can sometimes be difficult, while adapting to each individual’s lifestyle.

This new C3, which will be produced in Chennai, will be aimed at new married consumers in their thirties, from the emerging middle class, with a comfortable income, who will be attentive to the value offered by a product that represents a significant outgoing and which needs to be robust and practical to maintain. It must be attractive, modern with innovative options for connecting to the family’s smartphones, while reflecting their tastes and their personality.

A stronger position in South America…

Citroën’s presence in South America is much older, dating back to the 1960s. Citroën’s objective today is to gain a firmer foothold in this market with modern products, in step with customer aspirations. The C4 Cactus is produced in the Porto Real plant and embodies Citroën’s positioning in Argentina and Brazil with its original and bold styling as well as comfort.

Produced in Porto Real in Brazil, the New C3 symbolizes a real renewal in the region, with its modern styling, its connectivity and the experience of its on-board comfort. The B-Hatch segment accounts for almost 30% of the total market in Brazil and almost 26% in Argentina (data FY 2020).

The versatility and positioning of New C3 will ensure greater coverage of the segment (in Brazil, New C3 will cover 90% of the segment’s needs, compared to 40% for the former model, while that coverage rate in Argentina is set to increase from 50% to 75%).

It will be aimed at active couples in their forties, married and with two children, looking for a prestigious, versatile and spacious car for their short everyday journeys and also weekend getaways.

It will also appeal to independent and active single people in their thirties, living in cities and with a slightly higher-than-average monthly income, looking for a vehicle that is elegant (for modernity and status), robust and safe.

We show you here some photos of this new C3, and tell you here also that soon we will test the Citroën C3 Crossback and the C4… stay tuned on these columns!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Alfa ensures top quality for their new all electric Tonale SUV…

Alfa Romeo wants to build a top quality gem: the beautiful and striking Tonale, which will be Alfa’s first all electric vehicle. Beautiful it is, we sat personally behind the wheel of the clay model at the Centro Stile under the watchful eye of head of design Klaus Busse, and now Alfa also wants its finish and quality also to be legendary.

So the Alfa Romeo CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato and Alfa Romeo senior management met up recently with not less than 150 Italian and international suppliers at the G.B. Vico plant in Pomigliano d’Arco.

Alfa Romeo CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato seen here above

Quality was on the agenda, and virtually only that.

Having specifically focused on this goal ever since his appointment, new CEO Imparato has taken part in monthly meetings at the Pomigliano and Cassino plants.

And Again at the meeting – with about 60 suppliers in attendance and others linked up by a livestream – he strongly reiterated that quality is a major priority. The goal is excellence.

“To achieve it, Imparato told, the starting point is the selection of materials. Our suppliers, the companions on a journey the destination of which is the brand’s first electrified car, embodying Alfa Romeo’s DNA with the highest quality standards.

Plant manager Alessio Leonardi adressing the audience of suppliers at the plant...

Joining the CEO at the meeting were the Stellantis Chief Customer Experience Officer, Richard Schwartzwald, and the plant manager, Alessio Leonardi.

During the meeting, the project targets were shared with the suppliers, considered fundamental stakeholders in the achievement of the qualitative objectives set.

If you are eager to see, drive and make this car your own, we tell you here that the Tonale will be marketed in Europe from June 2022 onwards… we will keep you posted on the further developments concerning this masterful Alfa, stay tuned on these columns!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Rewriting the future of our cities: the CEO of Fiat and a world class architect shared their vision…

From left to right: Stefano Boeri, Silvia Boccardi and Olivier François

On World Environment Day, Olivier François, CEO of the Fiat brand and CMO at Stellantis, and the architect Stefano Boeri, whose firm is engaged in urban forestation projects all over the world, featured in a conversation for World Environment Day 2021 on the cities of the future.

They addressed the themes of urban mobility and sustainable architecture to make cities healthier and more livable, by improving air quality and therefore quality of life.

This focus on the future city, and more specifically this sharing of values of sustainability both for urban life and mobility started began over a year ago: in its vision of a utopian city, demonstrated and hinted at by Leonardo DiCaprio in the launch advert for the New 500, Fiat drew inspiration from the green architecture created by Boeri in several locations around the world.

Read all about it further…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

A new renaissance for (mega)cities…

At their meeting, François and Boeri analyzed the opportunities for a “New Renaissance”: they looked at photographs of the current situation in cities and even more so to the images of the ongoing changes. They also took a long hard look at the societal trends and the increasing interest of urban dwellers all over the world for environmental issues. Then they discussed the urgency of taking action, and the major opportunity of inspiring change.

That inspiration for change must be rooted in attention to aesthetics, in architectural beauty, but also inspired by the certainty of the need to improve the quality of the air we breathe and to reduce pollution levels in the cities we live in.

Boeri’s vertical forest in Milano.

Both men came to the conclusion that the combination of architecture like Boeri’s Vertical Forest – its 27,000 plants and millions of leaves contributing to clean the air by absorbing CO2 – and cars like the New 500 offering zero-emissions mobility can no doubt contribute to improving air quality in our cities.

The all electric 500 steps already in the new era…

In the words of Olivier François, Fiat CEO and Stellantis CMO: “The decision to launch the New 500 – electric and electric alone – was actually taken before Covid-19. Even then, we were already aware that the world could not take any more “compromises”.

In fact, lockdown was only the latest of the warnings we have received. At that time, we witnessed situations that would have been unimaginable until then, for example wild animals roaming the cities, proving nature was taking back what was rightfully hers. Plus, as if it had still been necessary, we were reminded of the urgency of taking action, of doing something for the planet Earth.

We have an icon, the 500. An icon always has its cause and the 500 is no exception: in the 1950s, it opened access to mobility for all. Nowadays, in this new scenario, it has a new mission – our mission – to create sustainable mobility for all.

It is our duty to bring to market electric cars that cost no more than vehicles with an internal combustion engine, as soon as we can in line with the falling costs of their batteries. We are exploring the territory of sustainable mobility for all: this is our greatest project.

Between 2025 and 2030, our product line-up will gradually become electric-only. This will be a radical change for Fiat.  Meanwhile, in the near future, only a few months from now, I am proud that we will see the conversion of the legendary track on the roof of the former Lingotto factory in Turin into the largest hanging gardens in Europe, hosting over 28,000 plants. A major, meaningful – and once again sustainable – project, due to revitalize the city of Turin, our home.”

Urban planning for the future…with more plants and trees.

Then Stefano Boeri, architect, urban planner and founder of the Stefano Boeri Architetti practice, gave also his views: If we consider that cities are responsible not only for the emission of over 70% of CO2, a phenomenon at the origin of global warming, but also for the emission of pollutants which are the main cause of diseases and mortality from respiratory problems, it is clear that cities are the first places to intervene with a profound change.

The Covid pandemic has shown us how fragile our lives and our bodies can be and highlighted the importance of improving the environment and above all the air of the cities in which we live.

“La Pista” 500, soon a reality on the rooftop of Lignotto, in place of the iconic oval track.

In addition to absorbing CO2, reducing energy consumption and urban heat, increasing the biodiversity of living species and making cities more attractive, trees drastically reduce fine dust pollution.

Let’s not forget: plants and trees are the only way we have to absorb the pollutants already emitted. I believe that the time has come to promote, with all our strength and resources, a great campaign to clean the polluted air of our cities, that microparticulate of substances harmful to the health of our lungs that has certainly accentuated in some particularly polluted urban areas the intensity of spread of the COVID 19 infection.

We already have several solutions available that can help us: protect and increase the permeable and green surfaces by creating new parks and gardens, in and around our cities; transform city roofs into lawns and vegetable gardens; promote community gardens and urban agriculture; use tree roots to decontaminate polluted soils; create a network of green corridors to connect parks, forests and green buildings. “

More electric mobility in the urban environment is imminent…

In Fiat’s vision, the penetration of electric mobility will rise, as more and more barriers are overcome. The topics under discussion in the talk included the need to improve access to electric cars, by means of innovation and new financial products that can lower the bar of entry; the need to increase the number of private charge points at apartment buildings, requiring a rethink of the infrastructure of the apartment buildings of the future, but most of all by adapting existing buildings; the need to raise visibility of charge points in cities and increase the penetration of fast charging stations.

That will entail a rethink of urban planning, a challenge that requires the involvement of a wider range of stakeholders. This is the stimulus and message Olivier François and Stefano Boeri wish to put out as their contribution to World Environment Day – held by the United Nations every June 5th, the message of which this year is “TOGETHER WE CAN BE #GENERATIONRESTORATION”.

Question time…

At the question time after the presentation, your servant asked CEO Olivier François to elaborate a bit more about the dialogue which existed between Fiat and these stakeholders in shaping the city of the future and its mobility.

Besides public bodies and municipalities, I was also keenly interested in how the dialogue unfolded with Fiat’s supplier firms like Bosch, Siemens, etc, who also perform extensive research in these fields. CEO Olivier François then trusted the answer to his colleague who maintains this dialogue with these external firms.

In his answer, he focused here mainly on the oil firms, which propose also future-oriented solutions, ranging from alternative “clean” fuel to renewables, and he saw the big oil companies also gradually transform themselves into suppliers of energy in all its forms, i.e. becoming “energy” supplying firms in the widest sense of the word. He pointed out that the boundaries between electricity suppliers and the oil firms will become increasingly blurred. The dialogue is indeed active and is indeed widened to all forms of energy. Energy supply and CO2 reduction remain the crux of the matter for all, he concluded his answer.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

A clever setup: in the new Dacia Sandero, your smartphone is a …multimedia screen!

Our smartphone follows us everywhere. So why not use it as a multimedia screen in the car? That would be smart. For Dacia it was self-evident, albeit on the condition that it was fully integrated into the driving experience. This is how Media Control was born.

Nicolas Legros, Director of Transversal Operations for Dacia, explains the philosophy and advantages of this system, which is introduced in New Dacia Sandero.

“At Dacia, we are committed to redefining the essence of the car. For that we had to find a smart, simple and attractive multimedia solution. Moreover, customer studies show that the buyers of the brand prioritize simplicity in this area. That is an important point raised by members of the Dacia community as well. Our engineers and designers have worked closely together to create Media Control, a system that places our customers’ favorite screen – their smartphone – at the center of the multimedia experience in the interior. ”

Indeed, taking your smartphone out of your pocket to make it your travel companion without having to place a hard-to-attach support on your ventilation grilles? That ease of use would appeal to many people. And this is well understood at Dacia. To make life easier for drivers with smart, affordable and contemporary solutions, the brand’s engineers and designers have pooled their talents and came up with a very practical solution…

What is Media Control?

Nicolas Legros explains the system: “Media Control is a complete multimedia system. It includes a radio, two speakers, a USB connection, Bluetooth connectivity, steering wheel controls and, above all, a docking station for smartphones integrated into the dashboard. From the start of the project, this station was fully integrated into the design of the dashboard. In this way we guarantee comfort and user-friendliness for our customers. ”

The smartphone, which is placed in the universal housing in the center of the dashboard of New Dacia Sandero and held firmly in place, integrates perfectly into the driving experience. The strategic placement, at the top of the dashboard and slightly turned towards the driver, guarantees readability of the data, which improves safety. All you need to do is download the Dacia Media Control app on your smartphone. A simple Bluetooth connection then turns your smartphone into a full-fledged addition to the dashboard, replacing the integrated multimedia system.

Navigation, radio, music, telephone and even access to vehicle information – all essential functions are at your fingertips. Even the voice control is present, thanks to the voice recognition of the smartphone.

And when the phone is not in the holder, the latter disappears into the dashboard for more discretion.

A smart system with sophisticated functions

However, all this is not enough to turn Media Control into a 100% smart multimedia system. Thanks to the customizable app, the system also adapts to the needs of each user and even connects to the car’s on-board computer.

However, all this is not enough to turn Media Control into a 100% smart multimedia system. Thanks to the customizable app, the system also adapts to the needs of each user and even connects to the car’s on-board computer.

This makes it possible to create shortcuts to your favorite widgets and apps and even to frequently called contacts. To navigate, each driver chooses his own preferred app thanks to the wide choice of maps and guidance systems. Choose multimedia à la carte. Radio, playlists from your telephone, subscription to music platforms, USB stick or MP3 player … There is no shortage of choice. In addition to calls, the phone has all the essential functions: a hands-free mode to look up contacts in the phone book, consult the call history or consult scheduled events in the calendar. With Android devices, and soon also on iOS, the SMS function even reads out messages. In terms of vehicle functions, Driving ECO provides real-time access to consumption data and gives the driver personalized driving tips at the end of each journey.

Upon arrival, more distracted drivers will appreciate the phone alert and the Go To My Car feature, which guides them back to the car’s last parking spot.

All this is so smart and practical!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

The BMW Group Annual Conference 2021 will bring a new chapter in reporting….

The BMW Group is embarking on a new chapter in its reporting: For the first time, it will be combining its Annual Report and its Sustainable Value Report for the reporting year 2020 in a single Integrated BMW Group Report.

After the Board of Management redefined the company’s central sustainability goals in 2020, integrated reporting marks the next logical step – thanks to integrated management of the company. Henceforth, the Integrated Report will be published to coincide with the BMW Group Annual Conference, outlining the company’s economic performance, as well as its contribution to the environment and to society.

The livestream is on Wednesday, March 17…

So, stay tuned again on Wednesday!

The BMW Group Annual Conference 2021 will be broadcast live via livestream and satellite.

Agenda  17.03.2021

08:00 –09:00 GMT                       BMW Group Conference – LIVE

09:00 – 10:30 GMT                      BMW Group Conference – Q&A Session LIVE

13:45 – 14:45 GMT                      BMW Group Conference – Replay 

You can follow the BMW Group Annual Conference 2021 at http://www.live.bmwgroup.com and @BMWGroup social media channels:

Twitter: http://twitter.com/BMWGroup

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/BMWGroup

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Mercedes moves its E-power competence centre to its home core factory in Untertürkheim…

Mercedes-Benz Drive Systems Campus, Stuttgart-Untertürkheim

German automakers are very serious about it. Getting as competent about E-power technology and drive systems as they are in petrol engined technology. So they are making the essential and necessary structural changes.

Mercedes for instance is transforming its Mercedes-Benz Drive Systems unit and its Stuttgart-Untertürkheim site for an “Electric First” future in the context of its “Ambition 2039” strategy.

Untertürkheim is to become a technology competence centre with a campus focusing clearly on electric drive and battery technology, including the production of lithium-ion cells. The Untertürkheim site has always been an integral part of the Mercedes-Benz powertrain production network – as an innovation centre and as a hub of Mercedes-Benz powertrain expertise.

Mercedes-Benz Drive Systems

A three-digit million euro amount is invested to transform Untertürkheim, the largest site in the company’s global powertrain production network, which will in future be known as the “Mercedes-Benz Drive Systems Campus”.

The site will focus on research, development and production ramp-ups of drive systems.

A new factory for the small-series production of future battery cells, and a dedicated battery safety lab, will complement Mercedes-Benz’s existing research and development activities in the field of battery technology.

eATS test benches at the Mercedes-Benz Drive Systems Campus Untertürkheim

The company strives for a holistic approach which ranges from basic research and development to manufacturing of battery systems. In terms of series production, the site will focus increasingly on electric drive components – battery and electric drive systems, while conventional engine, transmission and component production will gradually be phased out, which will affect employment profiles and scopes.

Vertical integration is essential…

The Mercedes-Benz Drive Systems Campus is a crucial development step regarding the sustainable transformation of the Untertürkheim site. At the same time, this requires substantial adjustments in its production program and processes. In this context, the existing competence centres will be restructured or systematically expanded. The close link of research, development and production at the same location will create important preconditions for synergies and unique know-how,  strengthening the vertical integration in house as a key pillar.

The Mercedes-Benz battery factory in Untertürkheim – plant annex Hedelfingen – will produce battery systems for the Mercedes-EQ model EQS from 2021

Focus on battery technology and electric drive systems.

The bundling and extension of its battery activities is of paramount mportance. Widespread research and development activities are already anchored at the Untertürkheim location, such as the e-technology centre and cell technology centre, where, among other things, prototypes for the electric drive system are built and cell technologies are researched and tested. Additionally, the battery research and development activities currently located at the Nabern part of the plant, including various test benches, are to be relocated on the campus in the future.

Further investments are planned in the significant expansion of the current cell technology centre in order to be able to cover the entire value chain of battery technology. In addition to basic research, pre-development and design of battery cells, a new factory for the small-series production of lithium-ion battery cells is being planned, starting operations in 2023. The sustainability factor, transparent cell development through to recyclability, plays a major role in this. Moreover, a dedicated battery safety lab will complement Mercedes-Benz’s activities.

Mercedes-Benz Untertürkheim plant to produce electric powertrain in the future

In the future, the company will cover almost the entire field of battery technology at its Untertürkheim location – right down to battery systems which are manufactured at the site. The battery factory in Brühl nearby will produce batteries for plug-in hybrid vehicles from 2022. Starting this year, battery systems for the Mercedes-EQ model EQS – the all-electric member of the S-Class family – will roll off the assembly line at the Hedelfingen part of the plant. The EQS will be manufactured at Factory 56 in Sindelfingen some 20 km away starting in the first half of 2021. The battery system for the EQE will also be produced in Hedelfingen.

In just a few months, battery systems for the Mercedes-Benz EQS – the all-electric member of the next S-Class family – will roll off the assembly line at the Hedelfingen battery factory, which will be manufactured at Factory 56 in Sindelfingen some 20 km away. The battery factory relies on state-of-the-art systems and uses a wide range of Industry 4.0 technologies. The extensive production tests are already in full swing.

The company moreover is setting a clear focus on the development of the highly efficient electric drive system, the intelligent combination of electric motor, battery system, power electronics and software through to series maturity including testing.

The next generation of electric motors are being developed in house and will feature inverter and high voltage technology. The manufacturing and assembly of electric drive systems parts for future vehicle models of the Mercedes-EQ brand will start at the end of 2024 and round off the product portfolio with the battery factories in Hedelfingen and Brühl. The previously planned production volumes of electric drive systems will double.

Flexible powertrain production network…with protected employment.  

With regard to the series production volumes of conventional powertrains at the Untertürkheim location, Mercedes-Benz will even more benefit from the flexibility of its global powertrain production network in the future.

The eATS is the engine unit of electric vehicles. The eATS consists essentially of the three subsystems: an electric motor, its power electronics and the transmission part for power-transmission.

New production volumes are being examined in detail in order to maximize efficiency and profitability. On the employment side, this leads in the medium term to changes in employment profiles, for which the company prepares its employees with targeted qualification measures. The reduction of series production volumes of conventional powertrains will also lead to adjustments of personnel at the Untertürkheim location. The company is preparing for this with various measures and the top priority is to implement structural and personnel measures in a socially acceptable manner with regard to the jobs affected.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Mercedes-Benz has opened an online reservation system for its EQS flagship…

Mercedes is in this new electrical age going from strength to strength, and is also doing quite well globally. Recently, the company posted a 2020 profit for its shareholders of 3,6 billion Euro. This was 1,2 billion Euro or 50 % more than the previous year. Asian markets are friendly for the brand with the famous, iconic star.

Your servant has now left hospital after two major operations mid-February and within a few weeks will again be legally allowed to sit behind the wheel. Soon enough, at the end of April, I will be testing the new and highly interesting EQA, followed by the impressive G 400 d J. Good times ahead!

Mercedes-Benz has opened an online reservation system for the EQS. Interested customers can reserve the fully electric luxury limousine via the link http://www.mercedes-benz.be/eqsreservatie. When making the reservation, a reservation amount of € 1,500 is requested. The reservation entitles the holder to a production location of the EQS, but the customer always has the option to cancel – if necessary. As soon as the sale of the EQS starts, the customer will compile his own EQS and convert the reservation into an order.

The online reservation system offers customers the opportunity to be the first to drive in the EQS. With its progressive design, the new MBUX Hyperscreen and interesting specifications – such as a range of up to 700 km (WLTP) and a 250 km range recharging in just 15 minutes – the EQS offers all the advantages of a full electrical architecture. The camouflaged prototypes reveal key design features that are revolutionary for the luxury segment, such as the “cab forward” design and the coupé-like “one bow” styling.

Ambition 2039…

The introduction of the EQS and the consistent electrification of the entire model range are important parts of the strategic plan “Ambition 2039”. As part of Ambition 2039, Mercedes-Benz is working to offer a CO2 neutral model range in less than twenty years. In 2022, the portfolio will include eight fully electric Mercedes-EQ models.

Needless to say, the global production network of Mercedes-Benz is ready for the company’s electro-offensive and is consistently integrating the EQ models into the series production of existing plants. From the start of production, the EQS in Factory 56 in Sindelfingen is producing on a CO2-neutral basis. The batteries of the EQS are also produced in a CO2 neutral fashion by CATL (Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Limited)…. Brave and very Green New World!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

FCA opens its plants again…in safety!

On April 28, FCA reopened the Sevel plant, together with R&D activities and pre-series production of electric and hybrid models in Turin and Melfi.

The plant is actually dubbed the Atessa factory, and is operated by Sevel, a 50-50 joint venture between Fiat Chrysler and PSA. About 6,000 people are building daily some 1200 LCV’s, as we told already earlier in our columns, and it is Europe’s largest LCV assembly plant.

Of course, this reopening has been carefully prepared, and is the result of rigorous analysis and preparation carried out in collaboration with leading virologists and other experts and agreed with all trade unions.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Delivery of safety kit at the entrance of the factory…

Playing it safe…

Before employees returned to work, the Company repeated cleaning and sanitization activities carried out at the plant when production was suspended on March 17.

Those activities covered 18 rest areas, 52 toilets, 29 changing rooms with more than 7,400 lockers, 2 medical rooms and 4 cafeterias.

Prior to the start of production, all Sevel employees were sent a link via WhatsApp and email to a web page explaining measures to be taken in each production area, together with video tutorials.  

The measures include maintaining a minimum distance of one meter between individuals, instructions for washing hands with soap and water or sanitizing gel, instructions for refilling a cup or water bottle from public dispensers, new rules for the company cafeteria and correct management of meetings. Employees were also provided with instructions on how to recognize and respond to Covid-19 symptoms and preventive measures to be taken in an emergency.

Workers at work with gloves masks and safety equipment…

Areas reconfigured…

Production and office areas have also been reconfigured based on specific health and safety requirements to enable the redistribution of workers and to increase distancing between those working in close proximity on the assembly line. In production areas, movement of personnel between areas has been limited to the minimum level possible and based on specific needs. Similar measures have been implemented in common areas, while the plant’s 85 offices have been fitted with protective barriers between employees or workstations have been relocated. Work breaks have been organized by area and phased throughout the course of each shift.

In the coming days, training on safety standards will be made available via e-learning, standard internal communications channels and by sector managers with the support of specialized medical personnel.

Everyone a personal safety kit…

Today, every employee at the Sevel plant was given a personal kit containing surgical masks and gloves (to be replenished daily), as well as a pair of safety glasses to be worn when cleaning their individual workstation. The number of masks supplied also means that those employees who commute via public transport will have an additional mask for their travel to and from work.

Finally, rigorous checks were also put into place at all entrances to the Sevel plant, as provided under the agreement signed by FCA and the trade unions. Everyone entering the premises on foot or by car, had their temperature checked by thermal camera or remote thermometer operated by first aid and medical staff wearing adequate protective equipment.

Further FCA plants opened…

The Atessa plant is not the only FCA factory opening its doors again. FCA resumed also activity at its Melfi plant in southern Italy for the final stages of the development of Jeep’s new hybrid car, with some 750 workers a day expected to take up work, and also at Turin’s Mirafiori plant some 250 workers will continue work on the new electric 500.

Hans Knol ten Bensel