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50 years ago: the Mercedes-Benz truck plant in Wörth started operation
- The planned engine factory developed into the world’s largest truck assembly plant
On 1 October 1963, the newly established commercial vehicle plant in Wörth, forming part of what at the time was Daimler-Benz AG, began production of truck cabs. Today Wörth is the largest truck assembly plant in the world, with a workforce of more than 11,500. In addition to models such as the Actros, Arocs, Axor, Antos and Atego, Wörth is where Daimler builds vehicles for the Mercedes-Benz Special Trucks division, Unimog, Econic and Zetros. Around 100,000 vehicles are produced in Wörth each year.
The history of the Wörth plant started in 1960 when the former Daimler-Benz AG purchased an industrial site comprising an area of some 1.5 million square metres from the district of Wörth near Karlsruhe. Initially the plan was merely to build an engine factory on the site - also referred to as Wörth island on the River Rhine - where for the time being around 100 people were to be employed. However, Mercedes-Benz changed the production setups of its plants in the Commercial Vehicle division during this time, in order to be better positioned for the future. Under the new concept, the plan was to build engines and buses in Mannheim in the future, while trucks were to be produced in Wörth.
The transition was implemented gradually. From 1 October 1963, therefore, only truck cabs were produced at Wörth for the time being, which were then processed further in Gaggenau (site dedicated to heavy-duty trucks) and Mannheim (site dedicated to medium-duty trucks). Even so, some 22,000 cabs rolled off the production line during the first year of operations at Wörth. In December 1964 some new areas were added to the site’s responsibilities, namely interior equipment and final painting. This year also saw the decision finally being made to combine truck production and final assembly entirely in Wörth. An exception to this was the Unimog, which continued to roll off the production line in Gaggenau.
In addition to the 750-metre long (subsequently extended to 1000 metres) and 50-metre wide assembly hall, additional facilities were set up in Wörth including administration buildings, a training workshop and staff canteen. The new site was initially designed for an annual capacity of 48,000 trucks, but this figure was already reached by 1966, when the production of medium-duty trucks and completely knocked down (CKD) shipments to assembly plants all over the world were added.
From 1969, the production capacity at Wörth was gradually increased to 100,000 units per year. Yet in 1975 Mercedes-Benz once again exceeded this mark with the production of 105,200 trucks. By this time, the truck plant in Germany’s Palatinate region had been enjoying its status as the global driving force behind the Commercial Vehicle division of Daimler-Benz for some time: the 500,000th truckhad already been produced in Wörth by 1973.
In the 1970s it was primarily the heavy-duty cab-over-engine trucks of the new Generation (NG) which rolled off the production line, manufactured from 1973 as part of a highly flexible production process and designed strictly in accordance with the modular system. In the 1980s, the NG models were initially replaced by the NG 80 generation and later, in 1988, by the SK (“ Schwere Klasse”, or heavy-duty) model series. In the segment for vehicles with a gross vehicle weight of 6.5 to 13 tonnes, the LK (“ Leichte Klasse”, or light-duty) model series began to set new standards from 1984 onwards.
The 1980s revealed that in view of the ever-increasing variants making up the model range, the production plants had to be adapted to cope with the changes – right through to production of a more flexible bodyshell. As a result, Mercedes-Benz opened a plant in 1992 which permitted maximum integration allowing all cab variants to be welded. The processes for fitting out the interiors of cabs were also improved.
At the turn of the 21st century, Wörth became the stage for an unrivalled model initiative by Mercedes-Benz in the field of commercial vehicles: in 1996 the completely redesigned heavy-duty Actros truck celebrated its premiere, followed in 1998 by the light and medium-duty Atego series of trucks. 2001 saw the launch of pilot series production for the new heavy-duty Axor in the medium-duty long-distance haulage and heavy-duty short-radius distribution sectors. In 2002, Unimog production was relocated from Gaggenau to Wörth – after 51 years and production of more than 320,000 vehicles. In 2003 Mercedes-Benz then also relocated production of the Econic municipal truck from Zwickau to Wörth. Production of the Unimog, Econic and the Zetros heavy-duty off-road truck, launched in 2008, came to make up the Mercedes-Benz Special Trucks (MBS) business unit in Wörth. The high level of competence in commercial vehicle production has been enhanced since 2008 with the establishment of the Development and Testing Centre for trucks.
Since 2011, Mercedes-Benz has used the transition to the Euro VI emission standard for the largest commercial vehicle development offensive in the history of the company, as part of which the production portfolio in Wörth has been comprehensively revised: 2011 saw the addition of the fundamentally new Actros for long-distance transport, followed in 2012 by the Antos for heavy-duty short-radius distribution, and finally in summer 2013, the Arocs as the specialist for the construction industry along with the new Atego.
When it comes to selecting a new commercial vehicle, a significant role is played by the Application Information Centre (“BIC” in German): It provides customers with the opportunity to gather information on more than 180 industry solutions from more than 70 body manufacturers in an exhibition format, and thus obtain a solution aimed specifically at meeting their individual requirements. As part of this, the BIC helps to save on the coordination work involved between various contacts and body manufacturers, and enables a direct comparison to be made between a wide variety of complete solutions.
Today the plant site in Wörth comprises an area of 2.4 million square metres, with the pure production areas having grown to occupy some 480,000 square metres. This is where up to 470 trucks are produced each day. Around 60 percent of production is exported to more than 150 countries. In Europe, almost a third of trucks in the 6.5 to 16-tonne range come from the Mercedes-Benz Wörth plant. Germany is a particularly important market: here almost half the trucks between 6.5 and 16 tonnes are produced at the plant, which commenced operation on 1 October some 50 years ago.