MUNICH, Germany -- Mercedes-Benz has changed the way it develops products in an effort to improve quality and reduce costs.
The goal is to share more parts across model lines.
Instead of vehicle program managers developing components separately, Mercedes has formed six cross-functional teams. The teams will handle shared research and development in areas such as powertrains.
The move resembles the r&d and engineering structure at Mercedes before 1994, analysts said. At that time, the general development teams were much more powerful than the program management teams responsible for specific vehicles.
"Back then, the development czars were so powerful that they could push through which components to use in the different model lines," said Philipp Rosengarten, an analyst at Global Insight in Frankfurt.
In 1994, Mercedes changed that structure to give primary power for product development to program managers. It feared its models were growing too similar to each other.
But the pendulum swung too far, analysts say.
Program managers increasingly developed components for their models that were difficult for other model lines to use.
For example, individual programs developed navigation and audio systems that look similar but use different technology, making it impossible to swap them.
Even though cross-functional teams have gained power, program managers retain much authority. With fewer components to develop, they can focus on their own programs.
"We now purchase services from the cross-functional departments," said Uwe Ernstberger, program manager for M-, R- and G-class SUVs. "Work that was previously done by each program manager has now been concentrated."
Another Mercedes source said: "The program managers have been strengthened because they are liberated from the need to develop each component.
"They can now better concentrate on the specific areas that are unique to their models."
The program managers will retain responsibility for the entire life cycle of their project.
The goal is more efficient project leadership - and assigning clear responsibilities for things gone right or wrong.
In addition to sharing more parts, engineers also must identify more components to carry over from outgoing models.
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