12/02/2019
Luis Miguel González
AutoRevista Report: Electric and gas-powered cars as levers for change
The car’s transformation in Spanish factories
Nissan Motor Ibérica plans to up the rate of production of the e-NV200. Nissan Motor Ibérica plans to up the rate of production of the e-NV200.

Consulte la versión en español de este artículo

The production of vehicles powered by alternative energy has a long way to go in Spain. AutoRevista got together with automakers based in Spain (Renault and Daimler were not able to participate on this occasion) to discuss in detail the experiences that they have had and future possibilities.

The factory of Nissan Motor Ibérica (NMISA) in Barcelona closed 2018 with production of 6,000 units of the pure electric van, the e-NV200, which represents an increase of 50% in comparison with 2017. The company plans to up the rate of production of the vehicle, for which it recently expanded its battery plant facilities in Zona Franca, where it has assembled a 40kWh battery since February 2018.

As the only global centre responsible for the manufacture of the e-NV200, Barcelona has supplied markets throughout the world since 2014. Last year, 89% of the total amount of units produced of this vehicle were exported to over 20 countries, among them markets such as Japan and Germany. In 2018, Nissan sold a total of 468 units in Spain, representing a market share of 26%.

The arrival of the e-NV200 and battery assembly for this 100% electric vehicle brought investment of 100 million euros into the plant as part of its 431 million euro investment programme for Nissan’s overall operations in Spain. 

Last year, 89% of the total amount of units produced of the Nissan e-Nv200 were exported to over 20 countries, among them markets such as Japan and Germany

Nissan stresses that “being the exclusive manufacturer throughout the world of the most sold electric van in Europe and in Spain has been a firm boost for our country as a manufacturing centre for electric vehicles. The Barcelona plant’s commitment to the e-NV200 model is a step towards the creation of an electric ecosystem in line with Nissan Intelligent Mobility, the company’s vision of how to drive, promote and integrate its vehicles into society”.

Nissan anticipates that electrified vehicles will represent 40% of company sales in Japan and in Europe by 2022, and that said percentage will reach 50% by 2025. The Barcelona factory manufactures different models according to demand from different clients (Nissan, Renault and Daimler) within the Alliance. On the same line used for both combustion models and electric versions, the key lies in guaranteeing a process for assembling the battery’s onto the lower part of the vehicle.

In respect to the impact on suppliers, Nissan points out that “the only element that must be addressed in a specific way in the assembly of electric vehicles are the components related to the battery. Transport and storage are carried out in a specific way with humidity and temperature monitoring as well as the traceability of the material and rigorous tracking of each step in the supply chain. The battery pack and the electric motor, which are assembled in a controlled area to avoid contamination of electronic elements, must also be kept in mind”.

Hybrid

Ford is the only automaker that manufactures a hybrid model in Spain: the Mondeo; and the Sportbreak version is soon to come off assembly lines in Almussafes (Valencia). Sources from the factory indicate that, in terms of the potential problems of a hybrid version, “it has really been about integration, more than barriers to be overcome, with an additional launch, in which we had to pay attention to certain aspects related to the logistics chain, line supply and the content of workloads”.

The hybrid Mondeo shares the line with other models and the work involved in a hybrid is much broader than a combustion engine version. “We have had to redesign the lines so that the vehicle can integrate into the production process with balanced workloads so as to maintain current production rates”.

“We have had to redesign the lines so that the vehicle can integrate into the production process with balanced workloads” (Ford)

For certain suppliers, the introduction of the hybrid version has required certain specialisation in how to manage and manipulate electrical components to ensure the integrity of people, vehicles and equipment”.

Overall, Ford will invest some 9,400 million euros with a view to launching 16 fully electric vehicles as part of an overall catalogue of 40 electrified vehicles by 2022.

Electric versions

Production of electric cars in Spain (which includes the Renault Twizy and the forthcoming e-Vito from Mercedes-Benz) is especially notable in Vigo. Although large-scale electrification only began this decade, Groupe PSA’s centre in Vigo has produced electric vehicles since 1995. The first was the Citroën C-15, and electric versions of three successive generations of the Citroën Berlingo and the Peugeot Partner were later manufactured. Electric versions of these two models are still currently being produced. In the future there will also be electric versions of Groupe PSA’s new range of lightweight commercial vehicles for Citroën, Peugeot and Opel/Vauxhall. “The main development of successive manufactured models is their increased autonomy”, said sources from the Galician company.

The main development of successive manufactured electrics models at Groupe PSA Vigo is their increased autonomy 

Electric version have always been produced on the same production line as thermal versions, with specific installations for the assembly of batteries and the power train assembly. Since 2013, Vigo has had a battery shop, which will also be used to supply other Groupe PSA plants in the future.

The aim of Groupe PSA is to have plug-in and hybrid versions for all models from all its brands (Peugeot, Citroën, DS Automobiles and Opel/Vauxhall) by 2025. Within this framework, the new lightweight commercial vehicles that have been manufactured in Vigo since last year (the Peugeot Rifter/Partner, the Citroën Berlingo and the Opel Combo) will have electric versions, although for the time being the launch date has not been specified. The vehicle that is currently being manufactured (under the name: project V20) will have also have an electric version.
In 2018, 3,183 electric versions were produced in Vigo (1,340 Citroën Berlingo and 1,843 Peugeot Partner).

LPG

Gas is an increasingly more accepted option as an alternative to combustion engines. In the Groupe PSA Zaragoza plant, models powered by liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), or AutoGas, are manufactured. In 2018, 20.4% of the Aragonese plant’s production was earmarked for the domestic market and 79.6% to other markets (mainly Italy: 64,9%). In 2017, the national market represented 5% and exports were at 95%.

Sources from the factory claim that the Opel Ecotec LPG range “is a commitment to a propulsion solution that is available to us today to address sustainable mobility. Groupe PSA’s plant in Zaragoza is the only factory in Spain that fully carries out the process of manufacturing LPG vehicles on production lines, dealing with this alternative option since 2013.

With more than 100,000 units produced since its implementation, around 24,000 of the Corsa and the Mokka X were manufactured in 2018. The company notes: “In a market in which the possibility of factory transformations is scarce, Opel has a great advantage over the majority of manufacturers, as the LPG system is in-house, thus providing extra quality. The quality guarantee related to the installation of LPG in our vehicles comes from the know-how of our engineers and the reliability of in-house assembly. There is no transformation in external suppliers. Significant achievements have been made in terms of efficiency, quality and costs.

“Opel has a great advantage over the majority of manufacturers, as the LPG system is in-house, thus providing extra quality”. (Groupe PSA Zaragoza)

Cars powered by LPG move along the line like any other petrol vehicle, simply undergoing additional operations associated with all LPG components (tank, gas fuel lines, etc.). “We have managed to integrate a product designed to be transformed into a finished vehicle in a workshop, into a modified product to be integrated into a series assembly line. Unlike the rest of the internal combustion vehicles produced in the factory, LPG vehicles have to undergo additional quality checks related to filling up and for checking the LPG mode/circuit, which is performed in the exterior part of the factory’s facilities before sale.

Originally, all the material required for LPG options came in the form of an assembly kit from one single supplier and it was necessary to transform components (unroll pipes, create connections, etc.) as well as to distribute the components throughout the different sections of the production line, in some cases making pre-assemblies or off-line preparations. “These days, we are able to separate said kit into finished independent components that come directly from different suppliers and share the same logistics as the other car components, both when received at the plant and when distributed along the production line”.

CNG

Compressed natural gas (CNG) is the chosen alternative of Volkswagen Group, which is split between SEAT and Volkswagen Navarra in Spain. In Martorell, SEAT manufactures the CNG versions of the León, the Ibiza and the Arona, “the only CNG SUV in the world”, says the company. All of them are fully integrated into production lines, which have been adapted to the production of gas vehicles since the current León generation. “The added value of our whole TGI portfolio is that vehicles are designed and conceived from the outset so that they can operate with both natural gas and petrol. Production is then integrated into the same lines in which the other vehicles are built. This process ensures that our CNG vehicles have the highest quality and safety standards”, said SEAT.

SEAT values its experience with CNG in “a very positive way. This is attested to by the fact that sales of SEAT’s CNG vehicles tripled in 2018 in comparison to the previous year, exceeding 11,500 units throughout Europe (of which 10,500 were produced in Martorell). It is a sustainable, efficient, safe, accessible and mature enough alternative. What’s more, it could be yet more sustainable if we bring biogas into the picture. In fact, we are already immersed in projects to reduce emissions yet more and to thus offer 100% renewable fuel. In terms of obstacles, these mainly concern the still limited refuelling infrastructure, as well as inadequate promotion of this type of technology among the public. In both cases, SEAT is working on plans to promote CNG as another clean mobility alternative to consider and to look for synergies in the development of charging infrastructure”. 

Sales of SEAT’s CNG vehicles tripled in 2018 in comparison to 2017, exceeding 11,500 units throughout Europe (of which 10,500 were produced in Martorell)

CNG vehicles are mechanically based on a thermal combustion petrol engine that is adapted so that it can also operate with gas and incorporate additional tanks. “What is important to remember is that we manufacture them like this from the beginning, not with subsequent transformations”. To adapt the models to their TGI version, SEAT has partners that supply cylinders for storing the gas, for instance.

“In the last two years we have signed strategic agreements on a national and international level with gas companies such as Naturgy and Madrileña Red de Gas in Spain, Snam in Italy and the Association Française du Gaz Naturel pour Véhicules (AFGNV) in France, to encourage the creation of charging points and to promote natural gas as a fuel alternative”.

In terms of the advent of electric models, SEAT believes that “the next two years will be key. We will soon present the next generation of the SEAT León, which includes a plug-in hybrid version that will be produced in Martorell. Electrification is part of the future strategy of SEAT and, to do this, we will adapt the León’s current production line to include the installation of batteries, wiring, the charging socket, etc.”.

CNG has also been integrated in Volkswagen Navarra, which internally produces the set of CNG tanks, “which is why we needed to set up new facilities and apply processes with different regulations. Also noteworthy is the new CNG filling station at the end of the process, as well as the new system for checking the sealing of the CNG circuit. Of course, it has been necessary to provide specialised training to the workers involved in the process”.

No specific suppliers have been affected by CNG, “as we buy components (gas cylinders, valves and pipes) separately and we pre-assemble them in our facilities. We receive motors from Consortium factories. The Pamplona factory holds the fuel alternative in high regard. “The process, once implemented, works as planned. The main obstacle is the need to train the whole team”.

”No specific suppliers have been affected by CNG, “as we buy components (gas cylinders, valves and pipes) separately and we pre-assemble them in our facilities” (VW Navarra)

In regard to a possible electric vehicle, the company notes that “Volkswagen has launched a plan to gradually create the necessary production capacity to build more than a million electric cars per year from 2025. In addition to the current e-up! and e-Golf!, production of the first member of the ID family, based on the modular MEB electric platform, will come as of late 2019.

Más noticias sobre Ford, Groupe PSA, Nissan, SEAT, Volkswagen Navarra
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