Mazda's new European designed and built Mazda2 started rolling off Ford's production lines in Spain last week with annual production geared to a minimum of 40,000 units.

It becomes the fourth model to be built at the Almussafes plant, justifying Ford's decision more than seven years ago to invest in making the plant highly flexible.

"This is a milestone for the company and clear evidence of what can be achieved by Mazda working together with Ford," said Dan Morris, Mazda Motors Europe sales vice president.

"Mazda wins by getting the capability of European production without the prohibitive investment required for an all-new stand-alone factory. Ford wins by having the opportunity to maximise the production capability and efficiency of the Valencia plant."

The launch of the Mazda2, which goes on sale across Europe over the next few months, comes against a background of sales success for the Japanese company. In 2002, Mazda sales in Western Europe (the 15 EU countries plus EFTA countries) rose 13.3 per cent from 139,393 to 157,934, according to figures from ACEA, the European car makers’ association. Japanese car makers as a whole saw their sales rise 6.6 per cent from 1.54 million units to 1.64 million.

Mazda’s European sales target for 2003 is 210,000 units, said Mr Morris, with 300,000 in the medium term.

Total investment for Mazda2 production was more than €340 million with 400 new robots installed. Valencia can now build more than 400,000 vehicles a year on two lines, switching volumes between Focus, Fiesta, Ka and Mazda2. Last year (2002) the plant, which opened in 1976, built 373,589 cars.

Work on introducing Mazda2 to Valencia began towards the end of 2001 with the arrival of a team of more than 70 Mazda engineers, said Akira Marumoto, head of European research, development and production for Mazda. "We had a team of production, manufacturing and quality engineers working together with Ford to review the production process.

"Quality is the key for us and our expected quality level for Valencia is the same as in Japan – that was the most important target for this car. We introduced a number of Mazda initiatives which have helped raise quality throughout the plant," he said.

One initiative was what Mr Marumoto calls 'reverse tear down' when a fully assembled car is taken off the line and stripped down, part by part to identify any potential quality problems.

Valencia's pioneering supplier park was opened in 1996 to deliver components in sequence to the assembly line – seats and instruments panels were among the first large components to be sequenced.

The park, connected to the plant by a number of overhead tunnels, the largest of which is 1km long, is now entering its third phase of expansion.

While Ford and Mazda share many suppliers, there are five unique suppliers for Mazda2. One key supplier which has moved to the site is the Japanese company Hirotec which produces the closures – doors, bonnet and tailgate – for Mazda2. These are unique to Mazda2. The car shares less than 140 components with the Demio, its Japanese 'twin'. Those that are shared include audio controls, instruments like the speedometer and inner door components, said Mr Marumoto.

Ford's Valencia plant opened in 1976 since when it has produced 7,443,571 units.

In 2002, it produced 151,639 Focus models, 137,836 Ka, and 84,114 Fiestas. A total of 198 pre-production Mazda2 were also built. Daily production for Mazda2 is scheduled at 210 units.

Published : 03/02/03 Author : Melanie Carter

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