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Trip Report - Smartville and Mercedes factories, September 2010.

This is Part 1 of a 3 part positing

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When I was planning for a trip to Europe I took last month, I was able to find information regarding visiting the smart and Mercedes factories and the Mercedes Museum, but much of it was dated and I had to search through many locations in order to find it all. So, I decided that after I returned, I would post a report as a guide to others who might want to visit themselves. It is an absolutely worthwhile visit. In previous trips to Europe I had visited the Saab, Volkswagen and Porsche factories but enough years had passed that the degree of automation had increased so much that, in many cases, it is now a very different process. I apologize if anyone thinks this posting is too long, but it reflects the issues I had in setting up this trip and it is an attempt to report on what is available and make it easier for others. These comments are reflections of what I remember being told during the tours but I may have missed a few details - chalk it off to being a senior moment. Also, please excuse my writing - I am a retired Accountant and more used to writing numbers than words. If anyone has questions regarding making a trip of their own, just post a reply or private email me. I'll get back to you. Enjoy!

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Locations -

Smartville, Hambach, France -
The factory is located just over the German border into France and only a few kilometers from the relatively major German city of Saarbrucken and just south of Sarreguemines France. Ironically, forty years ago, my wife and I spent a couple years in Germany and we lived in the town of Zweibrucken which is just to the northeast of Hambach. From Saarbrucken, the drive to Hambach takes twenty minutes or so and there is ample lodging in Saarbrucken. Of course, I expect there is lodging in the French towns of Sarreguemines and Hambach as well. However, Hambach is just a small village. If you take Highway E25 and get off at exit 42, it is just to the north a couple kilometers. It is white, large and on a hill next to the main highway.

Sindelfingen, Germany -
This is the location of Mercedes' primary factory. They produce bodies for the sedans and Maybachs and do the final paint and assembly. They do not produce the engines there. Like any major manufacturer, many subassemblies are produced at different locations. The SL Class cars are produced in a factory in northern Germany to my understanding. Sindelfingen is located at the southern edge of Stuttgart and is very easy to get to using the Autobahn. Even though this is a good sized town (much more so than Hambach), the town is absolutely dominated by the factory and you can't miss it. This is where purchasers go to to pick up their cars for European delivery and the factory has a large customer center for that purpose. They said they deliver as many as 500 cars each day through the European delivery program. I stayed at a Marriott hotel a couple kilometers from the factory because I had some Marriott points to use. I'm sure that there are other hotels of various price levels. The factory is reached at Highway A81-E41 exit 23. The exit is marked Boblingen/Sindelfingen and you follow the signs marked Kundencenter.

Stuttgart, Germany -
This is the location of Mercedes' Headquarters and Museum. The Classic Car Center is located in the Stuttgart area but not with the Museum and Headquarters. I didn't have the time to visit it but I was told it is a half hour drive from the Headquarters. The Mercedes complex is massive and, in my opinion, not the easiest to find. I used a GPS and went there twice - each time having to go directly through the commercial center of Stuttgart involving several lengthy tunnels which, of course, caused my GPS to to lose its position. Stuttgart is a relatively large city and, unlike Sindelfingen, it has a lot more going on than just Mercedes Benz. Of course, the Porsche complex is located on the north side of Stuttgart - at least it was when I visited some 25 years ago. There are ample hotels in and around Stuttgart and even staying in Sindelfingen close to the factory works well. That is what I would recommend - one hotel for both the factory and the museum. The Museum is located at Mercedesstrasse 100 (my Garmin GPS knew the street address) and the Headquarters is just across the road.Visitor parking is good at all of these locations and it doesn't cost anything at Smartville and Sindelfingen. Parking does cost at the Museum but you get some free time if you buy something in the gift shop.

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A few words about lodging in general -

Europe doesn't have as wide a selection of chain hotels as we do in the US. The largest cities have the Marriotts, Ramadas, Hiltons and the like, but medium and smaller towns have primarily locally-owned small hotels and Gasthauses. The hotels vary greatly in size and amenities but you should find them to be clean and most will now have en suite bathrooms. They will be higher on the cultural ambiance scale but lower on the luxury scale and they will often have a restaurant. The problem is finding them for planning your trip. Many now have web sites (in German) but travel agents may have difficulty finding them. There are some websties that respond with a listing of hotels after you Google the name of a town. This is the best way to find these hotels - at least the ones that are willing to pay to have their hotel listed. Gasthauses are traditionally pubs or restaurants that rent out a few rooms upstairs to travelers. Note that "pubs" are not the same as "bars" in the US. They are more of the English style - a gathering place for town residents to have something to eat and drink and socialize. They are much more family oriented than a bar and the rooms are not used for conducting impromptu social events or "commercial enterprises". However, the rooms may not have their own bathrooms and I've seen some that don't even have heat. They should be clean, but they are modest. This is the fun way to tour Europe but they seem to be going away as many of their owners are moving upscale to being small hotels with a restaurant. Lodging in Europe isn't cheap and there is an obvious move to the more profitable side of the business. There is one other kind of lodging - many people rent out rooms in their houses to travelers. Similar to a Bed and Breakfast but less commercial. As you drive through a town, you will see signs hanging on the side of private houses that say "Zimmer" or "Zimmer Frei" or Fremdenzimmer". These are spare rooms for rent. Normally there isn't any minimum stay. You should have a nice clean room with a shared bathroom and breakfast in the family's kitchen or dining area. This is fun but finding them in advance is very difficult. You could always just "wing" it.

Next - Part 2, Scheduling your tours

Jay
 

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Discussion Starter #2 (Edited)
Trip Report - Smartville and Mercedes factories, September 2010

This is Part 2 of a 3 part post

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Scheduling your tours (bear in mind that European factories shut down for sometimes as long as a month in the summer as a vacation and retooling period) -

Smartville - It is clear that Smartville really isn't in the tour business. However, if you arrange it in advance, they will give you a nice tour and you may find yourself as the only person on the tour. I was one of a tour for two (the other person being German who spoke English) and there wasn't any cost. The lady giving the tour speaks good English, is knowledgeable about the manufacturing process and is very personable. The tour takes a little under two hours. To schedule the tour you should call (from the US) 011 33 3 87 28 28 34 or 011 33 3 87 28 20 13. When they answer the telephone, you may encounter a language problem but eventually you will get passed around to either Sylvia Schuh or Jean-Yves Schmitt, her boss. She speaks better English than he does. You can private email me for their addresses. One of them will confirm your tour via email. I don't think there is any advance notice requirement except that it just be in advance. Due to other travel, I didn't get it done until a week before my visit but I should have done it earlier. But, it wasn't any problem. They are very accommodating in doing tours even though they probably consider it an imposition.

Mercedes Sindelfingen factory - This is the opposite of Smartville - they give structured tours several times each day, in multiple languages and to groups of 20 to 30 people. Many people taking European delivery of their cars take the tour but others can take the tour as well. There isn't any cost. Ursula Bochtler is the person to contact and you can private email me for her address. The tour takes approximately two hours.

Mercedes Museum - There aren't any tours except for large groups. You pay 8 Euros to enter and receive a device that hangs from your neck and explains each exhibit in English. You can then walk through the Museum at your leisure and spend the whole day there if you wish. There is an optional tour to the Mercedes engine factory which costs 4 Euros. I didn't take this tour but if you contact the Museum or go to their website, you can get more information. You can private email me for their web site URL.

Next - Part 3 - The tours themselves and summary

Jay
 

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Trip report - Smartville and Mercedes factories, September 2010 Part 3

This is Part 3 of a 3 part post

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The tours themselves -

Smartville -
This is an interesting factory because it is relatively new. It is laid out like a wheel with the actual smart factory at the hub and feeder companies radiating out from the center and connected by elevated conveyors. The tour only covers what smart does - assemble the car from components produced by the feeder companies and you walk at the floor level right along the assembly lines. Very little is actually manufactured by smart. For example, the cage is pressed, welded and painted by a feeder company and thus is not included in the tour. The same thing applies to the engine and transmission and other major components. Everything is based on the "just in time" concept in that little or no inventory is maintained by smart. Everything arrives at the proper location on the assembly line from the proper feeder at the proper time to go onto the proper car. Each car is different depending primarily on what country it is going to. What you see is the assembly all the way from the basic bare cage to the final quality control, water test and drive off of the assembly line. That is, with the exception of the electric car which leaves the assembly line without a motor or battery - to be installed by another company. They said that will be changed as production of the electric car increases. I also noticed quite a few cars that have electronics to shut off the engine at stoplights and then quickly restart the engine when the accelerator is pressed. I saw some of this on the city streets - primarily BMWs. I enjoyed the tour and the lady who gave the tour obviously wanted to make it a good experience. Naturally photos are not allowed in the factory. The main reception building (Communications Center) is separate from the factory and even outside of the factory's security zone. You drive your own car and follow the tour guide onto the factory grounds. The reception building has three cars on display and otherwise, is vacant space (they said they rent it out to groups). The cars on display are a Crossblade and two roadsters. One of the roadsters is a V6 Biturbo. Strangely, there isn't a ForFour on display. Of course, the ForFour was built in the Netherlands, not at Smartville. (You do see ForFours on the highways as well as an occasional roadster.) There is a display case of memorabilia that you can purchase but it was mostly empty and there is a theater that begins the tour. A far better selection of accessories and memorabilia is available at the Mercedes customer center in Sindelfingen. An interesting side trip is a visit to the smart dealer in Saarbrucken - easy to find and there you can see and touch a better supply of European Fortwos, several used ForFours and a roadster or two. I visited the dealership but didn't find any accessories or other things to buy that we can't get here in the US.

Mercedes' Sindelfingen factory - This is a completely different situation. The factory is not unlike the industrial area of a large city with dozens of buildings and forklifts and trucks running every different direction. There are enclosed elevated conveyor passages but they appear to have been added years later and are not in the radial pattern as at Smartville. One building will do the panel pressing, another will do the robotic welding, another will do the painting and another will do the assembly. More of the cars' assemblies are actually manufactured by companies within the Daimler family than is the case with the smart. The tour began at the customer center with a movie followed by a bus trip to the welding factory. The metal pressing and painting is not included because there apparently isn't that much to see and there may be some chemical exposure issues in the painting process. At the welding factory, you walk at ground level alongside the assembly line and see the robots assembling the cars' structure and welding everything together. It is very interesting to see the methods the robots use to ensure that the Mercedes tolerances are met. Then you are loaded back up on the bus and go to the assembly factory to see the bodies arriving from the paint factory and the other components arriving from wherever. While computers control the assembly process so that each car has a build sheet and "just in time" is employed, there appeared to be more inventory of common parts stocked at the factory than at Smartville. The assembly factory tour was done both at ground level and from elevated viewing platforms. Then the bus takes you back to the customer center. At the customer center, there is a cafeteria, several vintage and race cars on display and a very nice store that carries a wide selection of accessories, apparel and memorabilia - both Mercedes and smart. It was interesting to see that there were three company flags flying outside the customer center - two Mercedes and a smart flag in the middle. There were also several customized smarts on display in front of the center and a lot more in the parking lots and customer delivery area (although they said at Smartville that smart does not do European delivery). Again, no photography is allowed except at the customer center.

Mercedes Museum - This is a new, very modern structure of seven or eight floors with circular ramps going from floor to floor (hint - start at the top and go down). There are several hundred cars on display and the displays are very nicely done. There is a restaurant and an extensive gift shop. There is also a full service Mercedes dealer in the building and you can browse all of the European models and options that the Gods at Mercedes and MBUSA have decreed that we in the US can't get - even though they say we are their most important market - a sore point for me because the Europeans and English get so many more models and options, (including diesels) than we get. Of course, we can't get the diesel smart either. You can take photographs anywhere at the Museum including using a flash.

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So! That's it! This was really a fun trip. Things cost more in Europe but how often does one do this kind of thing? My next trip will probably include BMW and Audi even though I don't own any of those cars. Driving in Europe isn't any big deal, the money is easy to understand, the food and drink is good (too good) and English combined with some pointing and grunting, will normally suffice for communications.

I hope this helps others who are thinking about visiting Smartville and Mercedes in Europe.

I'm working on resizing some pictures, mainly of Smartville. If possible, I'll upload a few in a separate post..

Jay
 

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Great trip and great write up. Thanks for sharing.

I'll most likey will not make that trip. However, on this side of the world, I will remember the trip with our touring group of smart owners took to the Kemp Museum in St Louis on the way to KC back in June:

Kemp Auto Museum: Welcome
 

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Good info. I've done the smart factory tour twice, Peugeot once and the Porsche and M-B museums too.

We've gone to Europe about 15 times in the last 30 years. Good cheap chains in France are Formule 1 (if you don't mind sharing bathrooms, which are automated and self-sterilizing), rooms are 32-35 Euros a night (sleep three), cable TV and sink in room. Campanile is good too, but more comfortable with bathrooms in each room and basic conveniences in the room like a coffee maker. Count on about 55 Euros a night. These prices are dirt cheap compared to US hotels but they are clean and comfortable enough.

The chains tend to be located near highway interchanges and so on, so are ideal for the rushed traveller. Local hotels are better of course. We've rarely had to make a reservation anywhere. We usually do it the first night or two for Paris but after that, we wing it and sometimes reserve online while on the road after we know where we will end up that evening. (McDonalds and Caféteria Casinos among others have free wireless).

Good cheap meals are available at the aforementioned Casinos, Géant Casinos (Casino is a French food-oriented megastore chain) as well as a plethora of family restaurants with menus à prix fixe.

We have always found travelling in Europe considerably cheaper than North America. Even Spanish luxury hotels (the Paradors) cost less than a Fairmont or Hilton.
 

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Interesting information about hotels in France. Admittedly, I have almost always kept to Germany, Switzerland and Austria when I've visited and also when we lived there. I'll keep the French hotel information for future use. I don't remember ever seeing those hotel names in Germany.

Regarding the Peugeot tour - was it done in English? That's one that I'd like to plan for if it is. Where is the factory? When I was driving around Saarbrucken, I saw what appeared to be a Peugeot factory (it may have been on the French side of the border), but it didn't look big enough to be their main factory.

Thanks.

Jay
 

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What you saw at Saarbrücken was the warehouse complex of Peugeot Deutschland GmbH. That is the main import center for the country, plus German'y's parts warehouse.

The main Peugeot factory is at Sochaux, which is about a 3 hour drive from Hambach. Drive to Mulhouse and then southwest towards Dijon. The Autoroute goes right by the factory. I did the tour in 1986 and it was in French. Ce qui n'était pas problèmatique :wink:
 

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No, French only isn't surprising. And that would really be an issue for me because I'm at a total loss in French. What I have found in other tours, is that they want you to take a tour in a language you are comfortable with because of safety concerns.

Do they import to Canada? We occasionally hear that they are coming back to the US. It might be interesting because I saw a lot that looked really nice - the problem is that they would need to overcome the old memories of Peugeots of the past, right or wrong.

Thanks.

Jay
 

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I am sure they offer tours in English as well as a host of other languages. The group we went with was mainly French so that was that.

I've owned at least one Peugeot car since 1981 and they have all been super. One (1963 404) went 400,000 miles despite poor maintenance and another (1989 405 DL) did 250,000 miles before I decided that I shouldn't replace the head gasket that let go (due to not enough anti freeze). So if my smarts and Mercedes live up to Peugeot standards, it would be impressive.

Peugeot bailed from this market in 1991 and will never come back. There is no profit here, compared to the Chinese market, which in a year or two will surpass the US one in importance.
 
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