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Ford, GM look to MBtech for inspiration

STUTTGART, Germany - Ford and General Motors have asked DaimlerChrysler's MBtech unit for advice on how to reorganize their car and component testing operations.

MBtech was founded in 1995 as a wholly owned subsidiary of the former Daimler-Benz. It operates car-testing sites through its own business units and with companies such as German specialist assembler Karmann.

"Ford, for example, has asked us to evaluate their whole testing operations," said Helmut Keller, MBtech chairman. "They want us to come up with suggestions on how their operations can be restructured and managed more efficiently."

GM has approached MBtech with a similar request.

MBtech plays a vital supporting role within DaimlerChrysler.

Keller said jobs such as component testing and test track facility management can be accomplished much more efficiently by a specialized business unit than by the development department of a large, structured company.

"But our biggest asset is that we have a catalyst effect," Keller said. "As we are highly efficient, our customers need to become very efficient in their whole processes, too. While component testing was still inside the Mercedes-Benz development department, nobody really cared if a test program had to be canceled or delayed because a component wasn't finished."

New routine

That behavior has changed dramatically, Keller said.

"If a customer - Mercedes-Benz or anybody else - books a test run for a certain time and doesn't turn up, MBtech still has to be paid," he said. "So next time, the customer will focus on getting the component finished in time. This requires high levels of efficiency, and is speeding up processes inside the whole company. It's creating an entirely new culture."

Brands not owned by DaimlerChrysler already account for more than 40 percent of MBtech's $31.7 million in annual sales. They are expected to increase to $45.3 million in the medium term.

Keller said there is high demand for testing services throughout the auto industry. Carmakers are becoming increasingly concerned about meeting new safety standards, he added.

Joint ventures are common

Some of the units are joint ventures. Karmann, for example, holds 70 percent of the Drivetech test facility in Papenburg, Germany. In the United States, testing, research and consulting company Smithers holds 49 percent of another Drivetech facility.

Other MBtech units include EMCtech (electromagnetic consulting and testing), RMCtech (reliability management and consulting) and LMC (lean manufacturing consulting).

"We are not creating companies for the sake of it," Keller said. "Our goal at MBtech is to identify a promising business area, set up a business unit, team up - if suitable - with a joint venture partner, and then guide the company into success."

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