TREMERY, France - PSA/Peugeot-Citroen SA has introduced weekend shifts for the first time in the assembly shop of its giant engine plant here.
The move is in response to surging demand for the company's common-rail direct-injection diesel engine.
If demand for the engine continues to rise, the Tremery plant will maintain weekend assembly. The engine powers Peugeot's 206, 306 and 406, and the equivalent Citroen models.
Established in 1979, the Tremery plant represents a total investment of nearly $2 billion.
Tremery is Peugeot's biggest engine plant, and is reputed to be the world's largest diesel engine plant. It produces 6,100 gasoline and diesel engines a day. Next year, the plant will make up to 3,000 direct-injection engines daily.
Peugeot is determined to play a major role in the diesel boom in mainland Europe, said Peugeot spokesman Martin Alloiteau.
'Demand for diesel is exploding in Germany,' Alloiteau said. Diesel engines will account for nearly 27 percent of car sales in Europe this year. Only England has falling demand for diesel engines. Alloiteau blames 'environmental misinformation and high fuel costs.'
The popularity of common-rail direct-injection diesel engines has fueled this growth. Diesel fuel is pumped at high pressure into a metal tube - the common rail -which feeds computer-controlled fuel injectors. This adjusts fuel flow for maximum performance and economy.
The technology is considered key to making diesels clean enough to pass new emissions regulations.
Alloiteau admitted that Peugeot had lost ground to the Volkswagen Group in diesel sales in recent years. In 1994, the French concern had 25.2 percent of the European diesel market. Last year it had 18.5 percent. Meanwhile, Volkswagen's share rose from 18.8 percent to 27.2 percent.
'We are doing everything we can to regain leadership of the diesel market as soon as possible,' Alloiteau said.
Diesel cars will account for 30 percent of the European market by 2002, a 22 percent increase over last year, according to a new study from J.D. Power-LMC. The biggest volume growth will occur in Germany, France and Spain in the short term, with England recovering in the medium term.