Although the minivan has become nearly as ubiquitous on North American streets as pickup trucks, the penetration of the vehicle in the European market is comparatively minuscule. But that’s changing, although it should be noted that rather than calling the vehicles “minivans,” they’re described as “mini-MPVs”—multi-purpose vehicles. According to DaimlerChrysler, there were 250,000 MPVs sold in Europe in 1998; sales are expected to reach 960,000 units in 2004. . .which explains why Mercedes-Benz is launching the Vaneo mini-MPV. The Vaneo is being built at the corporation’s Ludwigsfelde plant (south of Berlin). The plant began production of the vehicles in October, 2001. The initial production rate is 50,000 units per year; according to the firm, the production could be expanded to 70,000 units.
The vehicle measures 4,192-mm long, 1,742-mm wide (excluding mirrors), and 1,830-mm high (up to the roof rails). Essentially, it is a one-box design, a box that has room to accommodate seven people (two of whom are kids).
The Ludwigsfelde plant has been producing commercial trucks since 1991. Subsequent to the announcement of the location of the Vaneo at the facility, DaimlerChrysler has invested 500-million Euros there for improving existing buildings, constructing new ones, improving the infrastructure, and training employees. For example, there is a new
20,000-m2 body shop. The 19,800-m2 main assembly hall underwent major refurbishment. The paint shop, a 15,000-m2 area, was completely stripped and rebuilt.
The body shop and the paint shop are connected by an 80-m long bridge. There are two main assembly lines in the body shop; 130 ABB robots are used for welding. There are ultrasonic sensors used to monitor weld quality. Four Perceptron in-line measuring units check build quality. Additionally, there are two more CNC-controlled measurement checks on the body shells before they make the trip to the paint shop.
In paint, there’s pre-treatment and phosphating, followed by a cathodic dip primer. Eleven industrial robots are used to spray paint. One interesting feature of the paint shop is a DaimlerChrysler first: the use of a condensation process for drying the base coat. The Vaneo is available in 10 different colors, six of which are optional metallic coatings.
Another interesting finishing-related aspect is that the entire underbody is coated with a smooth plastic material that is said to reduce wind resistance and road noise and prevent corrosion.
From paint, it is on to final assembly where approximately 2,000 more parts are put together to create the van—the MPV, that is.