Shenzhen plant: interview with Gilles Boussac

Gilles Boussac (© PSA Peugeot Citroën)
The big challenge – and, it turns out, the biggest success – was building a plant in record time in a company still in the creation phase.

Gilles Boussac

Chairman of Changan PSA Automobile Co., Ltd. (CAPSA)

The Group inaugurated a new plant in Shenzhen on 28 September. We talked about the new adventure with Gilles Boussac, Chairman of Changan PSA Automobile Co., Ltd. (CAPSA), the Group’s joint venture with Chinese carmaker China Changan Automobile Group.

Can you tell us about the new plant?

The main characteristic is that the plant is dedicated to the DS line. It will produce premium vehicles exclusively.

In the long term we will be able to produce 350,000 vehicles at the site, with a total surface area of 200,000 square metres, making us a world leader on compact plant design. This compactness is fundamental to performance, leading to shorter lead times, lower energy consumption, a more hands-on management approach, faster problem-solving and continuous improvement.

The second important point is environmental respect. For example, the lighting is LED and solar, which cuts energy use by 50%! In other examples of energy efficiency, we have developed an innovative technique for producing and storing iced water overnight, when electricity costs are lower. The iced water is used for air conditioning during the day. The volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, emitted by the paint shop are lower than 10 grams per square metre painted, placing us among the frontrunners worldwide.

What made the Group decide to set up production in Shenzhen?

It’s actually quite simple. Having bought the Hafei automotive company, our partner, Changan, had a site available in the city, located in Guangdong Province. Also, Shenzhen is a dynamic, on-the-move city. The development model is similar to that in US cities on the West Coast, based on new technologies, the green economy and leisure activities. It is already the number-four Chinese city in terms of GDP, and still more strong development lies ahead.

What were the major challenges and milestones in the project?

The big challenge – and, it turns out, the biggest success – was building a plant in record time in a company still in the creation phase. CAPSA is also a joint venture, so the process involved a lot of explaining and convincing, particularly in the upstream phases when the teams were getting to know each other.

After signing the Memorandum of Understanding in July 2010 we were able to assemble the teams. The second important moment came with the approval of the National Development and Reform Commission, which was the real green light for CAPSA. The third big step consisted of three successive events: the start of plant construction in September 2012, obtaining a licence for CAPSA in November 2012, and the emergence of the first buildings in March 2012. The first DS5 was produced in the prototype workshop in August 2012 with imported painted bodies and with parts from local providers. We were very proud of that. Then, in March 2013, we assembled the first entirely local pre-series DS5s.

Meeting the deadline was a real challenge. We had torrential rain at times, and to cope with landslides we had to inject concrete in the ground as fast as possible. We also had to set up the machines in a building that was still not entirely covered, with no water or air conditioning, in temperatures of 35° celsius with 90% humidity. Our teams remained focused on an essential objective: meeting the deadline.

Can you tell us about the everyday work of the teams at the plant?

The plant was managed until December by Nicolas Guibert, who focused his energy in the initial project phase – until spring 2013 – on building the plant with process and construction engineering. The PSA Peugeot Citroën teams in Paris were available the whole time and committed to meet this challenging phase. With his Franco-Chinese team, they also recruited and prepared the teams, drew up operating standards and rolled out the production excellence system.

The second phase really started in mid-2013 with the approach of series production of the local DS5. Production ramp-up, completed in just one month, was recently accomplished with success. This was a key test of the robustness of our processes in terms of people and equipment. Ramp-up also revealed some imperfections, which the production and R&D teams immediately spotted and sorted out. To address these issues, the Plant Management team organised an important, 20-minute, stand-up daily meeting to review what had been achieved the previous day and problems exceeding a given alert threshold.

The main question now is completely stabilising the plant to prepare in the best possible manner for the next vehicle to be assembled in the plant. Marc Bauden who joined the CAPSA team is fully committed to this objective.

How did training the Chinese production workers go?

We had a very limited amount of time to recruit and train the production workers. As a priority, we looked for people who already had automotive experience. We sent them to the plants of our partner, CCAG, to train them on the basics of the profession. We then selected the best among them and sent them to train in Sochaux and Trnava, with a view to their becoming future supervisors and unit leaders at the plant. The training course in Europe lasted one to two months depending on the job position. It was very short, and their training continued with PSA Peugeot Citroën technical assistance staff at Shenzhen throughout the entire site opening period.

The recruitment and training process as a whole lasted practically two years.