Only genuine with the Mercedes-Benz star – and many thousands of other parts and components of Mercedes quality! A variant of the large V-Class MPV adapted especially for China and hence even slightly more luxurious than in other markets is manufactured at the Fujian Benz Automotive plant in Fuzhou
Photos: Gareth Brown
It only takes a few deft moves, but their symbolic significance is enormous. Because, as everybody knows, a Mercedes-Benz car stands for “The best or nothing.” A worker reaches into the opened box, removes the padded plastic packaging and inserts the piece into the circular opening in the radiator grille – done. This is how the Mercedes-Benz star is mounted on a V-Class multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) here at the manufacturing plant of Fujian Benz Automotive in Fuzhou. Next are the final quality checks, and then the luxurious, large MPV rolls off the conveyor. Building this vehicle has turned into a real success story for its manufacturer. Many Chinese people in the growing upper and upper-middle classes appreciate the many extras that have been specially added for their own market, putting them in a van with a genuine prestige factor.
A great deal of preparation is needed before the Chinese V-Class vehicles can boast the star with the same justification as the vehicles of the same type that are made in Vitoria in the north of Spain, the global competence center for mid-size vans. This is because the vehicle consists of more than 10,000 individual parts, from bolts all the way through to the pistons. Added to that are pre-assembled components like the engine, as well as switch panels and the center console. No matter where it was made: the vehicle must be a genuine Mercedes-Benz. This is ensured by the Mercedes-Benz Production System that is standardized worldwide.
But that is not all: all components must be of Mercedes standard quality – and be at the right place at the right time. This represents a challenge for the logistics people, because the very things that distinguish a V-Class car cannot simply be bought in Fuzhou, which is about an hour’s flying time south of Shanghai. And not everything can be manufactured locally. About 40 percent of the parts are manufactured in China in line with the agreement between the joint venture partners operating the plant and the Chinese government. The remaining 60 percent come from Vitoria in Spain or are consolidated there before being shipped to Fuzhou.
The bulk of these imported parts arrive via seafreight. But aircraft are very important, too, in this operation – for example, in the case of consumables with a limited shelf life that cannot be produced in China. “These include the kinds of adhesives and tapes that are used in modern automobile manufacturing,” explains Shwa Zhang, Senior Manager Logistics Warehouse Supply at Fujian Benz.
Above all, however, it is in dealing with capacity bottlenecks that airfreight comes to the fore: “We do operate with a very sophisticated production planning process, but nobody can predict future sales with complete accuracy,” says Shwa Zhang. For example, extreme spikes in demand for V-Class vehicles are a common occurrence. Or it can happen that certain components are already en route by sea, and suddenly a large number of customers opt for a variant for which components are not available in sufficient numbers. “That is when we need an airfreight solution.”
DB Schenker plays a leading role on the transport side of the operation: “Ever since the joint venture was established in 2007, we have been acting as airfreight import freight forwarders,” recalls Melvin Xu. The sales manager for the logistics company covering China’s south-eastern region is responsible for looking after the customer Fujian Benz, which also manufactures the Vito and Sprinter models in Fuzhou. Xu was there in 2016, when the start of production for the V-Class gave the business a boost: “Whereas the annual tonnage had hovered around 300 tons before, it has now gone up to more than 500 tons.”
In Fuzhou, DB Schenker works on behalf of Fujian Benz with a team of six. Added to that are colleagues working out of Shanghai – plus those at the Spanish end, in Bilbao. The destination airport for most of the shipments is Fuzhou. The short transfer from the airport to the manufacturing plant is handled by Fujian Benz staff themselves, according to Melvin Xu. “But there are also shipments arriving in Shanghai or Xiamen – we transport those to the factory, namely door-to-door.”
While the cooperative venture was initially confined to imports, today DB Schenker also carries components in the opposite direction. “We deliver disk wheels, side skirts and central panels that are manufactured in China to Bilbao, and from there to Vitoria, as well as to Germany, and always door-to-door,” says Melvin Xu. These shipments also travel by plane – with a yearly volume of around 200 tons. Added to that are about 400 TEU (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) carried by sea. The goods are shipped in special transport containers in which they are protected from humidity and vibrations.
Whether from or to the Far East – the services provided by the logistics company must meet the Mercedes-Benz standard at all times. “There is only one thing that matters to us: it must work without fail,” says logistics manager Zhang. “Ideally we do like to keep logistics costs down, but our ultimate aim is to ensure a reliable supply for our production.”
Imports by airfreight, exports by plane and container vessel – and truck deliveries door-to-door: DB Schenker looks after its customer Fujian Benz with an extensive range of transport services
Photos: DB Schenker/iStock
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