At the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, Renault proudly showed its latest-generation D-segment car, the Laguna III. AMS caught up with Jean-Louis Ricaud, Executive Vice President, Quality and Engineering (Vehicle and Powertrain) to learn how design for manufacturing is being implemented at the Sandouville plant
AMS: As a member of the Renault-Nissan Alliance board, what level of cooperation in design for manufacturing have you witnessed with your Nissan partners?
Jean-Louis Ricaud: We cooperate with Nissan in different ways. One is to jointly develop parts such as engines and gearboxes, or to develop everything on one side, by either Nissan or Renault. Another is to permanently benchmark each other. Nissan designs a part and we analyse the cost. Renault designs almost the same part, and we analyse that cost too, to understand why there is a difference, and how we can benefit from each side to optimise. This practise of benchmarking each other is what we have implemented at almost every stage and level, and it is a very powerful philosophy.
The Alliance offers Renault and Nissan three main ways of working together. It enables us to develop common parts, it opens the door to developing new parts that would be impossible to develop alone, and it allows us to benchmark each other.
AMS: That gives each brand a much greater definition than, for example, Peugeot and Citroën?
JLR: Yes – we must protect brand identities and not dilute each brand within the global Alliance. There are two separate brands, with two types of customers, each with its own history and image.
Even if we use the same engine or gearbox, it’s possible to tune them differently for Nissan and Renault to give the customer differences in accordance with the brand identities. Even within a single brand like Renault, we might use the same engine for a light commercial vehicle (LCV) or a passenger car, yet we provide our customers with different engine performance. When we don’t share the product itself, we share information. Products for Renault and Nissan vehicles might function differently because the customer requests certain things, but they frequently contain shared hidden parts; we may share the split of the cost, and try to identify cost savings.
JLR: We compare all our warranty and quality results. These are checked at Alliance board level two or three times a year. When we identify differences, we investigate what’s led to the difference.
In terms of joint product development, there is a lot shared as regards engines. Many Renault petrol engines are of Nissan origin, and several Nissan diesel engines are of Renault origin. We are developing several new engines which will be shared. Renault will use Nissan automatic gearboxes, and Nissan will use some of our manual gearboxes. We save a great deal of investment by doing this.
Renault is developing a high-performance V6 engine but we shared the cost with Nissan – it’s very expensive to develop and amortise V6 engines. It would be too expensive to develop such an engine for Renault alone because we do not have the volumes of sales. The Alliance makes possible what might otherwise not have been.
AMS: How do Renault and Nissan regard each other in the Alliance?
JLR: The Alliance history has three phases. The first was the Nissan recovery plan. At the end of the 1990s, when Nissan was close to bankruptcy, Renault took over Nissan shares and management. During phase two, we launched some programmes to share engines and gearboxes. Now we are in phase three where we recognise each other as almost equal in terms of quality.
Renault’s products are seen as valuable by Nissan, as far as quality is concerned. Nissan also recognises that Renault’s cost approach is very effective, and acknowledges Renault’s lead in CO2 reduction programmes, as we are more used to operating in Europe than Nissan. On the other hand, Nissan is very efficient in manufacturing and Renault has learned a lot. Each company recognises that it is possible to work together and benchmark each other.
With regard to benchmarking, to be able to benchmark each other, you need to recognise each other as almost equal.
AMS: Where does the actual manufacturing process fit in the concept of cooperation and benchmarking? Are there two different manufacturing philosophies and processes?
JLR: Renault has implemented the Renault Production System while Nissan operates the Nissan Production Way.
The Renault system is almost identical to Nissan’s. We have learned a great deal from Nissan in assembly line organisation. The Japanese manufacturers use very efficient processes like poka yoke, e strike zones, and installing check men (see inset) along the line – all techniques which feel strange to Europeans, but are highly efficient Japanese practises. We observed these and copied them.
I am impressed by the speed and quality at the Sandouville plant [where the Laguna III is made], which implemented the production system a few years ago. It’s not comparable to the past. We reached a high direct acceptance ratio at the beginning of ramp-up. That has never occurred before. That’s because we have implemented the Nissan manufacturing approach. The use of strike zones and check men has increased the efficiency of our line.
I spent a lot of time [at the Frankfurt Motor Show] studying the new Audi A4 and comparing it to the Laguna III. It’s comparable. This is a new era for Renault. We have demonstrated that for a medium vehicle like Laguna we can compete with the best on a quality level, and I really think that we will be in the top three with this model. This is a key for the future, to be able to sell top-class products. I am proud to be able to say on a pure technical side, we are comparable with the best today.
JLR: No, because the output depends on painting, stamping and body-in-white (BIW) assembly, but what we have improved is the efficiency of the line, with fewer people working.
In terms of warranty claims, and problems reported from the sales network, the first indication is that Twingo, which has only recently been launched, is better than Clio, which was one of the best. And that’s very, impressive. For me, that’s a result of all that we have learned from the work we have done ourselves, and from what we have learned from Nissan. That’s typical of the progress we have made, thanks to the Alliance.
AMS: Technologies such as hydro-forming, hot stamping, laser welding and clinching are more widely used in Europe than in Japan. Are there any common technologies which run through the Alliance, or do Renault and Nissan have their own ways of achieving weight reduction and strength improvement?
JLR: There is no standardisation of technologies – there are reasons for this. For example, the issue of fuel economy in Europe is more important than in the US. The safety challenge is also quite different; in Europe we develop cars to achieve high EuroNCAP star ratings.
Even if we say we have a worldwide platform, when we manufacture this platform in China, or in Japan, or in Europe, we adapt it. It’s not exactly the same platform everywhere. If we have different design, it’s logical that we may use different technologies. In Europe, customers demand tight fitting exterior panels. In Japan, customer tolerance is higher – they accept larger spaces between panels, but demand a much higher paint quality than in Europe. We have to adapt designs and processes to meet local customer expectations. However, Nissan cars assembled in Europe are almost always a copy of those assembled in Japan. That avoids redesigning everything.
We are trying to standardise as much as possible to enable the assembly of Nissan cars in Renault plants and vice versa. One of the most important issues is to have the same graph for assembly and we are very close now.
We are also developing a new 4x4 product in Korea called Koleos, which is being designed by Nissan for assembly in Pusan. This is a Nissan plant, but we are modifying it to welcome Renault designed products. We will mix Renault and Nissan products on this line.
Outside Japan and Europe, it’s very positive if we can share plants. Logan is a product that has been designed to be compatible with several different technologies. That’s why it’s easy to localise the model in South America, India and Iran – its design is very efficient from this point of view.
AMS: Looking to the future, which forming technologies interest you the most?
JLR: In the years to come, we will have to continue decreasing the weight of our products. When you consider CO2 emissions, everyone thinks about the engine. But first you need to think about the aerodynamics and the weight of the car – these are the two key factors.
Weight optimisation is one of the keys of the CO2 fight. The new Laguna III is lighter than its predecessor; despite having more equipment inside, it’s 100kg lighter than the earlier model. To achieve weight savings, we need to use some very specific parts to save space, save weight and ensure safety. The difference between four and five EuroNCAP stars is not a BIW issue, it’s related to the level of equipment in the car – how much you equip the car with airbags, double airbags, knee airbags and seatbelt reminders.
Each time you put additional equipment on board, you add one more point, which goes towards earning additional EuroNCAP stars. But you also add weight.
To reach four and five EuroNCAP stars, you need to use specialised steels, which I think makes up about three- to five per cent of the steel we use. Ninety five per cent of the steel plates we use are mild or regular steel. It might make sense to use hot stamping or hydro-forming on the high performance steels which are more difficult to stamp and form.
AMS: How do your designers learn about the constraints of manufacturing processes on designs? Do you take designers to plants and engineering centres to see what can be made and what is difficult?
JLR: We integrate the design of a process at the start of the design of the product itself. It’s easy to select a particular body shape only to discover it is expensive to produce. The balance between the dream and the reality passes through the process optimisation.
We have two engineering departments for body design and for assembly line design. These are product process departments that are responsible simultaneously for the design of the process and the design of the product.
At every plant, there are engineering teams who report to me from these two departments – stamping and painting on one hand and assembly on the other. This helps us to optimise our processes and use the plants efficiently.
AMS: Do you work closely with machinery makers and equipment providers? Can you envisage even greater partnerships with these companies in the future?
JLR: For BIW, we are basically our own supplier. We stamp and assemble in-house while components are sourced. We design the parts, and ask suppliers to develop the process.
We team up with them to design the part in the most efficient way to facilitate the manufacturing process and make the manufacturing as cost efficient as possible.
Renault already has close cooperation with suppliers and I am quite sure we will need to form even closer relationships with them during the design phase.
AMS: There is almost no machine tool and general automotive manufacturing equipment industry in France. What is your view of this and do you encourage French companies in this respect?
JLR: France is one of our main customer markets. For sourcing, our supplier base is the world, not just France.
For the plants situated in France, it is better to have local suppliers, as long as their costs are competitive. There is no reason, if they are not competitive, to have special conditions for them.
These suppliers need to be competitive because they need to work not only for Renault, but also for other vehicle makers . . . if they are not competitive in France, they will not work for these manufacturers and they will not have sufficient turnover, and they will disappear. We help them by forcing them to be profitable.