THE WEEK THAT WAS: Assembly plant week?

By Graeme Roberts | 28 March 2014

Ford Lima engine plant workers Dan Kleman, Tina Garner and Jim Parker work the line in a factory on which $500m will be spent

Ford Lima engine plant workers Dan Kleman, Tina Garner and Jim Parker work the line in a factory on which $500m will be spent

OK, OK, I admit it - just-auto.com this week is looking a bit like Assembly Plant News.com.

Being the resident plant nut, and also automatic transmission/technology/EV hybrid nut, I had a ball in BMW's Leipzig plant last week and finally, this week, managed to tell you the tale of the i3 plant-within-a-plant currently knocking out 70 of the lovely little EV/range extenders a day with the delectable i8 sports car following in April.

BMW is serious about its i-branded electrified car line and the enthusiasm was palpable in Germany, no matter who I spoke to - from board level British sales and marketing chief Ian Robertson to Plant Leipzig electric vehicles production director Helmut Schramm (Prof.Dr.Ing., naturally) to the discreet PR minders like 'sustainability spokesperson' Micaela Sandstede who, with corporate communications colleagues, quietly shadowed top executives like these, noting what they said, intervening occasionally if there was a chance a still-secret bean might be spilled. Everyone's got to be on-message.

That message (BMW must be mindful of other pioneering electric vehicles from the likes of Nissan and Renault - and associated ideas like Better Place - either not achieving optimistic initial targets or working out as planned) is that i vehicles are uniquely designed from the ground up as electrified vehicles - so not just a convenional steel car with battery and electric motor substituted for fuel tank and combustion engine - and built using unique materials and processes, as demonstrated at Leipzig last week.

Designs will also vary according to use - the i3 city car has electric motor (plus optional range extender petrol engine if ordered) in the back, driving the rear wheels and has an interior/seating layout/load areas optimised for city commuter use; the i8 combines I3 1.5-litre petrol engine (shared with the latest Mini) with batteries and electric motors into a hybrid, has four-wheel drive, looks like a mean Italian supercar and is designed to go very fast and handle superbly. And there's more i models to come.

Meanwhile, there was lots of other good plant-oriented news this week. Ford announced a $500m spend at its Lima, Ohio, engine factory to make a new 2.7-litre EcoBoost V6 for its redesigned, 'aluminium-ised' redesigned 2015 F-150 'light' truck line; PSA said it was going to build an extra 5,500 AL4 automatic transmissions at its Valenciennes, northern France, factory to meet Chinese demand, General Motors' Opel said it would add two new vehicles - including a new Buick for North America - at its main Ruesselsheim plant new factory on top of moving Zafira Tourer (the newer one of the two) production there from doomed Bochum with output starting next January and Chery said it planned a 20,000-unit assembly plant for the Philippines within three years. And that was all just today!

Renault is readying a new plant in Algeria for production from November and also appears set to start making hybrids and EVs in Malaysia. In China, Hyundai is still thinking about its fourth assembly factory.

On a less positive note, Honda is cutting Swindon output again - that factory has sure had its ups and downs in recent years - and Toyota, the latest to suffer some industrial niggle in India - appears to be on the way to sorting things out.

But still the good plant news came. Audi has started building the A3 in China (and India), parent Geely will keep churning out the 'old' XC90 in China after its Volvo Cars unit starts on the new one in Sweden, Volkswagen is spending $5bn on facilities in Brazil, there's another ZF factory in the works for India, and new panel pressing gear is just in at Tata Motors' Land Rover Freelander/Evoque plant here in England. Whew!

News like that, I like.

Have a great weekend (and don't forget the clocks Saturday night if you're in UK or Europe).

Graeme Roberts, Deputy Editor, just-auto.com