February 9--DaimlerChrysler South Africa (DCSA) was awarded the contract to manufacture the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class series. The new series follows on the success of the previous C-Class series and is internally referred to as the W204 series.
Production for this vehicle started in Germany in January and South Africa will see the first production unit issued in July 2007.
The reason for the time delay between the German plants and DCSA, says manufacturing management board member Joachim Follmann, is the quality orientated ramp up. Should production-related difficultites be experienced, it would be easier to manage in a German plant and transfer the lessons learned to South Africa. By the time the new C-Class series reaches South Africa, all processes and systems are running smoothly, says Follmann.
An initial production of 20,000 units is planned for 2007 with production rising to more than 50,000 per year.
Reportedly, the East London Daimler-Chrysler plant's level of technology is extremely competitive compared to that of the rest of the world. The German manufacturing plants share some of the same technology, says Follmann, but the East London plant must incorporate the different technologies needed to manufacture top-of-the-range vehicles. The plant also makes use of specialized laser welding technology and ensures that all employees are put through intensive quality training. In 2005, about 200 employees were trained in Germany during the product development phase. Along with specialists from Germany, these employees are conducting training to South Africa, which was initiated last year.
The East London plant is fitted with a bodyshop where several hundred sheet metal parts are joined to complete the body shell of the vehicle. The body shop is largely automated, using high-tech production infrastructure--more than 200 robots, laser welding cells, gluing technologies, and laser brazing technology--to ensure quality. Skilled jobs are done by highly trained employees.
The DCSA plant in East London is responsible for manufacturing the Mercedes-Benz C-Class series along with the Mitsubishi Colt series. The Mitsubishi Colt is manufactured and exported into Africa, while the right-hand drive C-Class is exported into markets worldwide.
The DCSA plays a key role in the local economy. The East London plant provides jobs to 3500 employees. It also encourages downstream business, with 3000 preferred suppliers on its list.