Early in the project, six employees were recruited as trainers from the Nissan factory. The group spent three months in Unterturkheim studying the processes for the Daimler M274 engine architecture, the design now built in Decherd.
In Tennessee, all employees go through an intensive, part-by-part training program in a shop away from the plant floor to learn how an entire engine works and how its pieces fit together.
"We are creating takumi, which is the Japanese word for craftsmen," says Gerardo Leon, a 32-year Nissan employee who started with the automaker in Mexico and now works as the new plant's operations director. "We want all of our people to be master craftsmen, to have that mind-set and passion for the work."
Decherd's project team also made repeated journeys to Unterturkheim to determine how to engineer Daimler's production specifications into the Nissan engine assembly line, says Gary Edwards, vice president for all of Nissan North America's powertrain operations.
"We have the technical expertise to build high-quality engines here in Decherd," Edwards says. "We've been doing a lot of this next door for a long time. But there are several places in our line that are exact replications of the Daimler engine in Unterturkheim."
While Nissan traditionally tests for engine leaks using forced air, Daimler's specs require helium to be pumped into the engines. Daimler's process obliged Nissan to adopt a different method for setting the height of the engines' cams. And the Mercedes approach also required Nissan to invest in more advanced noise and vibration testing systems from Kuka AG of Germany.
Production data from Decherd are now pooled with data coming out of the Unterturkheim plant and kept for long-term quality analysis.
The story continues to unfold for the Mercedes-Infiniti partnership. In late June, less than 24 hours after the first Infiniti engine rolled off the line in Decherd, Ghosn and Daimler Chairman Dieter Zetsche revealed a new project.
The companies will jointly invest $1.36 billion to construct a Mercedes-Infiniti vehicle assembly plant in Aguascalientes, Mexico, that will produce 300,000 compact luxury cars a year starting in 2017.
Whether the Aguascalientes small-car plant will mean an expanded mission for Decherd's four-cylinder products -- the only source of Infiniti and Mercedes engines in the North American Free Trade Agreement region at the moment -- neither company will confirm.
But until then, Decherd will have its hands full ramping up to supply engines for the Q50 and C class.