Geert Bruyneel (Volvo): ‘The success of Ghent is competence’
On Thursday, Volvo inaugurated its brand new battery assembly plant in Ghent, the first for Volvo. Belgian Geert Bruyneel, responsible for Global Production Operations at Volvo, had traveled from Göteborg to comment on the important investment.
“Sustainability is as important as safety at Volvo,” says Geert Bruyneel. “That’s why we are on this electrification journey. Electrification is at the top of our priorities. In 2025, we want to have reduced the CO2 emissions of our company by 40%; in 2040 we want to be CO2-neutral.”
Volvo’s new battery assembly plant in Ghent, starting up next week, has a pioneering role. Until after the summer, it will be ramping up, afterward it will turn out up to five batteries/hour, a figure that can be augmented fairly quickly if the need arises. The entire hall is a completely dust-free high-voltage area, a no-enter zone except for the trained personnel.
Volvo has invested €150 million in the new battery plant and is also investing €24 million in the education and training that goes with it. A copy of this plant will be built in Charleston, South-Carolina (US), near the factory Volvo is running over there.
In the end, Volvo aims to produce its batteries for electric cars all by itself. For the actual components (the cells), they have a long-time contract with LG Chem (South-Korean), and CATL (Chinese), so that they’re not easily running out of supply when something happens.
Until now, they had no problems concerning the coronavirus. They hope the factories of the suppliers in China will re-open on the 11th of March, as scheduled. The LG Chem cells for the battery arrive from a factory in Poland.
Volvo’s Ghent factory has been in Belgium for 55 years already. Last year, it produced 206 225 vehicles, from which 93% are exported. Almost 70% all over Europe, 15% to the US, and 8% to China. The factory gives work to 6 500 people.
The capacity for building the compact XC40 in Ghent has been increased to 185 000. Apart from that, Volvo is also assembling V60. Soon the production of the Twin Engine, Mild Hybrid, and fully electric model (XC40 Recharge P8) will start. The latter shares its technical underpinnings with the Polestar 2.
“The interest for our electrified models is high,” says Wim Maes, CEO of Volvo Belgium. “Already in 2019, we sold 31% hybrid cars, while our target was 20% in 2020.”
“I think we will produce 220 000 cars in 2020 in Ghent,” says Geert Bruyneel, who has himself been plant manager here ten years ago. “The factory is at full capacity; it turns 24 hours a day on three shifts.”
Bruyneel is confident about the future of the Belgian plant inside the company. “The future is today is my favorite saying, meaning that we have to constantly improve ourselves to stay top of the bill.”
“The company is a fixed value inside our group. Now that there are rumors about a fusion between Volvo and Geely, we could see this as a threat. But I see it rather as an opportunity; we can also build the Chinese Lynk & Co brand here (the original plan has only be postponed), and even the Polestar 2 when demand is high. They’re both based on the small platform CMA (Compact Modular Architecture).
Self-learning and responsibility
Bruyneel is a strong advocate for permanent education and training within the company. “When somebody works here, he acquires a deeper knowledge of what’s going on, and what he has to do compared to somebody from outside.”
“We have to invest in people so that they can take responsibility for their own. They will learn to always ask themselves and others what’s best for the company. Sometimes it will be automation, but sometimes it will be manual handling. There’s no rule here.”
“Competent people make the right choices. If you’re making your manufacturing processes too complex and confusing, you’re running into big trouble when something goes wrong.”
Bruyneel has the same attitude toward suppliers. “If they are more competent than we are, why shouldn’t we use them. We are no battery cell experts, so we let others make them for us.”
“When we look at our factories or our suppliers, apart from competence, there are three key factors to look at: cost, efficiency, and emissions. The latter is becoming more important every year. That’s also why we will introduce one new electric vehicle every year to come.”