We conclude our review of Daimler’s partnership with Renault and Nissan with a look at platform and production sharing projects
The preceding articles set out the background to and rationale behind the alliance between Daimler and Renault-Nissan. In this article, we look at each of the joint projects in turn, examining what they encompass in terms of vehicles, powertrains, technologies, factories, geography, timescales and the benefits of each programme to the partners.
The joint engine programme
This focuses on the development of a new family of three- and four-cylinder turbocharged direct injection engines with a maximum size of 1.8-litres. They are scheduled to go into production at plants belonging to all three members of the alliance towards the end of 2016 and are designed to achieve market leading positions in terms of fuel efficiency and emissions. When the programme was announced, the companies said that these co-developed engines would have “a high level of standardisation of non-brand relevant parts" and would be designed so that they retain “the clear distinctiveness of the individual brand identities”. The engines will be used on the high-end version of the ForFour Smart, Twingo and Clio, plus more widely in the next Renault Megane, Scenic and future Nissan C-segment vehicles, as well as the Mercedes-Benz A- and B-class series.
The Hambach plant in Eastern France continues to produce Daimler’s ForTwo Smart car
The original plan was understood to have included a Renault version of the ForTwo and electric versions for both brands, but for reasons which have not been made clear the idea of Renault taking the two-seater model was dropped soon after the alliance was announced. In terms of electric versions, the Renault Twingo was due to be offered in electric format (Renault even said so officially, with its 2011 annual report stating that the Twingo EV would be produced from 2014), but this idea too has been quietly dropped. However, at the Paris motor show last year, the head of Smart, Annette Winkler, said that electric versions of both the ForTwo and ForFour would indeed appear in 2016, although she was very cautious on what this would mean in terms of production volumes, citing the lower than expected take-up of electric vehicles in general to date.
Division of responsibility
The Smart ForFour is made on the same line as the Renault Twingo at the Renault Revoz plant at Novo Mesto in Slovenia, while the ForTwo continues to be made at the Hambach plant in Eastern France. These vehicles are made on a “new” platform which is actually a modernised version of the original rear-wheel-drive architecture which produced the original Smart ForTwo. In terms of the division of responsibility, Daimler provided the basic platform, while Renault delivered the modern EU6-compliant engines. Development costs were shared, and indeed reduced from what they would have been had each company worked on their vehicles alone, through deriving the new vehicle off the original ForTwo platform. Although it is early days for these new vehicles, as well having benefitted from shared development costs, the Renault plant in Slovenia should also see enhanced utilisation with the addition of the ForFour to its portfolio. However, whether this will result in sufficient output to utilise all of this plant's 250,000 upa capacity is doubtful.
The second pillar project was a straightforward OEM supply contract, effectively a re-badging exercise in all but name. This involves the supply of the Citan small van from Renault to Mercedes-Benz. The Citan is a largely unchanged Renault Kangoo, made on the same line as the Kangoo at the Renault factory at Maubeuge in Eastern France. This arrangement addressed a long-term gap in the Mercedes-Benz line-up, one which it had not filled since the demise of the Vaneo small van which was an expensive - and low volume - derivative off the original A-class.
When the programme was announced, it was reported that Mercedes’ sales target was around 30-35,000 vehicles a year; final production figures for 2014 have not been released by Renault as it only provides a total figure for Kangoo and Citan, but in 2013 (the only year for which Renault has released separate production numbers), less than 17,700 Citans were produced.
The third pillar project encompasses the supply of existing Renault diesel and petrol engines for various Mercedes models, including:
• A 1.5-litre diesel unit which is made at Renault Valladolid in Spain for the Mercedes A- and B-class;
• A 1.6-litre diesel engine for the Mercedes-Benz Vito/Viano van and, since October 2014, to the Mercedes C-class. This engine is produced at the Renault factory at Cleon in France.
• Two small engines for the Smart (and Twingo) programmes, notably a 1.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine and a 0.9-litre turbocharged petrol unit. The smaller engine comes from the Dacia plant at Pitesti in Romania, with the 1.0-litre unit coming from Renault’s plants in Western Europe.
The benefits here focus on Mercedes/Smart having quicker access to small, fuel efficient engines for its small and compact car range – and also Mercedes vans – than they would have done had they had to develop these engines alone; for Renault, higher production volumes accelerate payback on its original investment and also means higher utilisation at its factories in France, Spain and Romania.
In Europe, the first example here continues the cross-supply of engines between the brands. In this case there is the supply – from Germany – of Daimler’s 2.1-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine for use in the European versions of the new Infiniti Q50 sedan which is made at the Tochigi factory in Japan.
The second case involves the use by Infiniti of core technologies from the Daimler MFA compact vehicle architecture to produce its new Q30/QX30 compact car and crossover models. Production of these vehicles will start in the second half of 2015 at the Nissan plant in Sunderland, UK. The MFA platform will also be used to support the co-development of new models, including production in Mexico as described below.
Engine supply in North America
This new factory involves a total investment of US$319m and has created 400 new jobs; construction of the plant began in mid-2012, with the first engines coming off the line in Tennessee in June 2014. Total capacity of the plant is 256,000 engines a year, which is far more than the current combined US production of the Mercedes C-class and European versions of the Infiniti Q50 in Japan; it seems likely therefore that in the future this plant will also be used to supply engines to other vehicles in the Mercedes or Infiniti, or indeed Nissan, ranges in North America and elsewhere.
From Daimler’s side, sharing of investment costs to build its first engine supply point in North America is clearly a benefit, while the licences fees from Nissan-Infiniti will doubtless boost the company’s coffers without any significant risk.
Investment in Mexico
The third project in North America is arguably the most significant. This will involve the joint development of a new series of premium compact models. These will be made at a new €1 billion facility which will be equally owned by Daimler and Nissan; the new facility is being constructed next to the existing Nissan plant at Aguascalientes in Mexico. These vehicles will be closely related to the Mercedes A-class and Infiniti Q30 as they are understood to be based on the MFA architecture. In fact, Dieter Zetsche, the head of Daimler, spoke of this programme being built in China, Mexico, the UK, Germany and Hungary, clearly signalling the MFA platform and the existing Mercedes A- and B-class and derivatives (which are currently made in Germany, Hungary and China) and Infiniti Q30/QX30 (to be made in the UK). Mexican production is scheduled to begin in 2017 and the new factory will have an annual capacity of 300,000 units when fully operational in 2021. The Infiniti vehicles will be first off the production line in 2017, with the Mercedes-Benz models following in 2018.
Here the benefit to both parties involves shared investment costs for the Mexican factory, facilitating both sides' entry into the compact premium segment in North America; also, the addition of more Infiniti volumes to the MFA platform improves the payback on this original investment by Daimler.
Joint programme with Ford
Finally, there is the three-way partnership between Daimler, Renault-Nissan and Ford in fuel cell development which was announced in January 2013. This project – on which nothing formal has been heard since its announcement more than two years ago – aims to develop a fuel cell system which will be common to all three parties, resulting in significant cost savings. The intention behind this programme is to have affordable, mass-market fuel cell electric vehicles on the road by 2017. Other than indicating that this programme will be undertaken “by three companies at several locations around the world”, none of the parties have said much on this subject since the January 2013 announcement.
From a near standing start in 2010, the Daimler-Renault-Nissan alliance has quickly grown to encompass projects across the globe. There has been significant technology transfer from Mercedes to Infiniti, but Mercedes has gained through licence fee receipts, higher volumes for its MFA platform, and access to small, fuel efficient engines for its growing small and compact car range. Cross-badging arrangements in Japan and in Europe have enabled gaps in each side’s commercial vehicle line-ups to be filled (there are other gaps which remain and may yet be filled with similar arrangements in due course). There is a new vehicle plant being built in Mexico and the supply of engines between the parties is growing all the time.
To date, there have been few problems – such as with the Citan’s poor NCAP result, and the dropping of the Renault version of the Smart ForTwo. However such problems have been far outweighed by the alliance’s numerous successes. One thing seems likely – more joint programmes will be announced. It is just a matter of time.