Mercedes-Benz is expanding capacity at its Vitoria van making facility as it experiences strong order growth this year.

Mercedes-Benz vans delivered 76,600 units to customers (up by 20%), a new record. The strongest sales drivers were the mid-size van Vito and the V-Class multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) with growth of around 60% respectively. Sales of the Vito were up by around 61% to 21,300 units in the first quarter (previous year: 13,200). The V-Class sold 9,300 units in the first quarter, up by around 58% on the previous year's figure (5,900). Also for 2016 as a whole, Mercedes-Benz vans anticipates a significantly higher demand for both models compared with the previous year.

Taking account of the continuous high demand, the division is further expanding the production capacity at its global lead plant for the manufacture of mid-size vans in Vitoria, Spain. To this end, Mercedes-Benz vans is increasing its capital expenditure in 2016 to around EUR41m (US$45.980m), up EUR14m on 2015. A large proportion of this expenditure goes into the adaption of the body shop, the paint shop and the assembly line. The introduction of a third shift as from October this year is designed to achieve a significant increase in annual production.

"With the Vito and V-Class, we have turned the mid-size segment into the second pillar of our 'Mercedes-Benz vans goes global' international growth strategy in addition to the Sprinter," explains Frank Klein, head of Mercedes-Benz vans operations and responsible in that role for the division's worldwide production. "As the global lead plant for this series, our facility in Vitoria is the key factor behind this success. The highly motivated and qualified workforce is not just excellent in the way it deals with the rapid growth in demand. The experts in Vitoria also do outstanding work in connection with the further internationalisation of our production network. It is also thanks to them that we have established uniform Mercedes-Benz production processes around the world - with regards to the mid-size segment in the US, Argentina and China - and are achieving top-level quality at all our plants."

International production network for the vehicles of the mid-size segment

Mercedes-Benz vans manufactures its mid-size vans at three other locations of its global production network: in the US, Argentina and China. All these plants cooperate closely with the specialists at the lead plant in Vitoria. The experienced experts in Spain coordinate international production, from tooling strategy to logistics to quality management. Production of the V-Class at the joint venture Fujian Benz Automotive (FBAC) in Fuzhou, China, started at the beginning of the year. As a next step, local production of the new Vito will begin in Fuzhou in the course of 2016.

To meet the high customer demand, for the first time the Vitoria plant manufactures also during all summer months in two shifts. Every day at present, around 540 vehicles roll off the line in Vitoria in two shifts - the figure was around 470 at the end of 2015. Consequently, since the beginning of the year Mercedes-Benz vans has increased the workforce by around 800 to approximately 4,600. The introduction of a third shift as from October 2016 will result in the plant producing around 660 vehicles every day. In line with this growth, the number of employees is set to undergo another significant increase in the next few months. Mercedes-Benz vans has invested a total of over EUR190m in the start-up and expansion of production of the latest generations of the Vito and V-Class in Vitoria.

Vitoria - a pioneer in innovative production technologies

The plant which is situated in the heart of the Basque region in northern Spain plays a pioneering role within Mercedes-Benz vans in relation to the use of innovative production systems.

"We are increasingly focusing on intelligent production as a way of making the plant ever more agile," explains Emilio Titos, manager of the Mercedes-Benz plant Vitoria. "The key factors in this are connectivity of machines and other means of production as well as the efficient use of large volumes of data. Already today, we are in a position to respond extremely flexible to market changes as well as a wide range of different customer wishes."

For example, Vitoria is Mercedes-Benz vans first plant to systematically identify and locate almost every load carrier in the body shop using RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology. This significantly accelerates and improves the production processes while representing a further step on the way to the "paperless factory." In addition, Vitoria is the first plant in the globally integrated production network to use an LED-based light tunnel for automated paintwork inspection. Developed in cooperation with the University of Valencia, this technology comprises, besides the lighting, a highly sophisticated data processing as well as corresponding display of the results. This allows efficient, standardised inspection of paintwork and subsequent planning of further steps.

This year the plant in Vitoria is celebrating its 62nd anniversary. The first vehicle rolled off the line in 1954, when the plant still belonged to Auto-Union. In 1981, the entire plant was taken over by the then Daimler-Benz. Today, the 600,000m² site is home to a production area of 370,000m². The plant supplies almost all global markets. It is also one of the key industrial centres in the Basque region, generating around 3.3% of Basque gross domestic product (GDP) in 2015 and some 10% of Basque exports.

Mercedes-Benz Vito - the second "world van"

Alongside the Sprinter, the Vito is now Mercedes-Benz vans second "world van". With the Vito the division opened up numerous new markets in 2015 while consistently growing its unit sales. Total worldwide unit sales of the Vito rose by 23% in 2015 to over 74,400 vehicles (previous year: 60,300). With a growth of around 38%, an increased proportion of this was due to the growing popularity of the mid-size van among fleet and volume customers around the world. Following its introduction in Europe and in other global markets in 2014, the Vito has also become available in Latin America, the US and Canada - in both North American markets it is known as the Metris - since 2015. With its attractive design and wide choice of variants, the new vehicle sets the standard in its segment.