- From the 1965 LP models to the Actros, Unimog et al
- Capacity now doubled, on-site supplier park set up
If things had gone according to the original plan, the Wörth plant would today be the main engine plant for DaimlerChrysler's two truck plants in Mannheim and Gaggenau. As so often in life, however, history took a different course. For decades the trucks have been built not in Mannheim and Gaggenau but in Wörth, where production has now risen to approximately 100,000 units annually. Rather than Mannheim and Gaggenau supplying Wörth, it's actually the other way round. The Wörth plant is already long-established as the world's largest truck assembly plant: three million trucks have now rolled off its production lines.
1960: Daimler-Benz acquires a site for an engine plant
By the end of the 1950's, the truck plants of the former Daimler-Benz AG in Mannheim (light commercial vehicles) and Gaggenau (heavy-duty trucks), were operating at the limits of their capacity, at a combined output of 150 trucks a day and 40,000 trucks a year. But the risk of building a new truck plant seemed too high. Future output of trucks was not expected to surpass 50,000 units, so to invest in a central truck plant seemed excessive. Instead it was decided to relieve strain on the two existing plants by building a central engine plant to supply them.
The chosen site was in Wörth, a few kilometres west of Karlsruhe and almost midway between Mannheim and Gaggenau. Here a 1.5 million m² site was found, situated in a bend in the former course of the Rhine. The infrastructure was excellent, with trunk road connections to a nearby motorway, a rail connection and plans in the pipeline for a Rhine harbour.
1963: decision to make Wörth factory a truck plant
The company acquired the site in summer 1960, and construction got under way two years later. In 1963 however, by which time the first production shop had already been built, the company decided to radically restructure its production operations. Wörth was assigned a new role – to become the brand's central truck plant. The original plans were for a maximum capacity of some 200 to 220 trucks a day, i.e. some 50,000 trucks a year, or half the level of 2005.
As early as autumn 1963, the first cab bodyshells went into production in Wörth for supply to the Mannheim and Gaggenau plants. Previously, cab bodyshells had been supplied by the Sindelfingen plant. By the end of 1964, the first fully painted cabs were being built. The first complete cab incorporating interior fittings was built in spring 1965, followed on July 14, 1965 by Wörth's first complete truck, an LP 608 from the new light truck series. Medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks followed at one-year intervals through to 1967, coinciding with the model changeover to a forward-control cube-shaped cab.
Flexible production at one of the world's largest assembly shops
The highlight of the plant was an assembly shop measuring 750 metres by 50 metres. This building, which in the meantime has grown to 1,000 metres in length, remains one of the largest automotive assembly shops anywhere in the world. Right from the start, a notable feature was mixed-model production on one and the same assembly line.
The decision that Wörth should take on the role of assembly plant soon proved to be exactly right: in the space of one year, 1969, it already turned out 42,000 complete vehicles and a further 11,000 completely knocked down (CKD) parts kits for assembly abroad. And in 1975, total annual production (completely built-up vehicles and CKD kits) for the first time passed the magic 100,000 trucks mark.
This growth was accompanied by an increase in workforce numbers, which rose from 2,600 in 1965 to over 10,000 production and white-collar employees and trainees in 1980. 1980 also marked another major milestone: the one millionth truck was built.
From the LP series (1965) to the Actros, Axor, Atego, Unimog and Econic
Important landmarks at the Wörth plant have included model changeovers and the marked cyclical peaks and troughs that are always a typical feature of the commercial vehicle sector. The most significant milestones were the changeover from the cubic cab heavy-duty trucks to the NG ("New Generation") series in 1973, the introduction of the first-generation Actros in 1996 and the launch of the Axor in 2002. On the light-duty front, the LP series of 1965 was followed in 1984 by the Leichte Klasse (LK = "light class") and in 1998 by the first-generation Atego.
Since the start of 2002, the Unimog – and one year later the Econic – have likewise been built in Wörth. Today the Actros, Axor, Atego, Econic and Unimog are all built in Wörth.
Capacity now doubled, on-site supplier park set up
The plant has also undergone numerous structural changes since 1965. At the end of the nineteen-sixties, capacity was doubled. In 1972 the central parts warehouse for commercial vehicles was added and 1977 saw the start of plastic parts production. Both these functions have now been moved out of Wörth: since 1989, parts have come from the central parts warehouse in nearby Germersheim and plastic parts production has been outsourced to external suppliers.
In 1992, cab production was completely revamped, with the introduction of highly flexible production cells and driverless conveyor systems. A new interior finishing shop followed three years later. For the first time the cockpit was now pre-assembled and installed in the cab as a complete finished unit.
In the interests of efficient and environment-friendly production, the pre-treatment and cathodic immersion priming facilities in the up-to-date paintshop sector were refurbished at the end of 2005.
In summer 2001, the first suppliers set up shop in a newly created on-site supplier park at the Wörth plant. From here, parts and components are supplied "just-in-sequence" straight to the assembly line.
Three millionth truck leaves Wörth's assembly lines
The Wörth plant experienced a particularly successful year in 2005, with production topping 100,000 trucks. The world's largest truck assembly plant has put down deep roots in the region. Standing on a site that now covers 2.5 million m², its all-time production to date has now reached just under three million trucks. The three millionth vehicle will roll off the line in July 2006.