Smartville differs from other plants because its 14 buildings also are shared with suppliers. Supplier Dynamit Nobel paints all body panels on site and Krupp Hoesch provides the rear powertrain. Other on-site suppliers include Magna Chassis & Uniport, Surtemal/Eisenmann, Cubic Europe, Bosch, Siemens VDO and ThyssenKrupp.
Klaus Fischinger, Smartville plant manager, said: "Because our production system is so different we get regular visits, particularly from other DaimlerChrysler plants. Jeep has been very interested."
When the plant opened in 1998 it produced just one model, the City Coupe, now called the ForTwo, with 250 part numbers and a choice of four colors for the plastic body panels.
The plant produces four models - the Smart ForTwo and the ForTwo Cabrio plus the Roadster and Roadster-Coupe. There are 2,000 part numbers and more complexity in the number of specifications.
"We have grown up very quickly," Fischinger said. "We have now got used to working with our supplier partners and have refined and optimized the manufacturing process."
Fischinger said the idea of sharing assembly responsibility with supplier partners was revolutionary and has worked, but there were doubts in the beginning.
"Each company has its own philosophy, and each was worried as to how that would correspond," he said. "We meet every month to discuss how we have been doing and how we plan to work in the following month."
The production system is known as Smart-Plus.
The component companies construct their modules in the plant and supply them to the production line. This substantially improves the efficiency of production and reduces inventory to almost zero.