Many would know by now that Malaysia is committed to becoming an EEV (Energy Efficient Vehicle) hub in the region, which takes into account the energy efficiency of the entire industry ecosystem and rolling out cars that are to make use as small amounts of fuel and as emit as little carbon dioxides as possible. Nevertheless, what matters most is that the NAP 2014 makes energy efficient vehicles more affordable for consumers thanks to the subsidisation by the government.
An EEV vehicle is defined as vehicles that meet defined specifications in terms of carbon emission level (g/km) and fuel consumption (l/100km) – regular Motor Trader readers would notice by now that most cars with the EEV status would typically provide good performance with frugal fuel consumption. This includes fuel-efficient vehicles, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, EVs and alternatively fuelled vehicles like CNG, LPG, Biodiesel, Hydrogen and Fuel cell.
In the immediate future, Hybrids, Plug-in hybrids and EVs will become the next big thing in personal transportation, which is why premium automakers like Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Volvo are putting full attention into producing cars fitted with powertrains supported or run solely on electricity to cope with the rising demands from consumers. This means that manufacturers have added additional steps to not only fit their cars with the new hybrid powertrains seamlessly alongside the regular models but most importantly to ensure the safety of its workers, customers and emergency response teams.
Mercedes-Benz Malaysia (MBM) hosted a media visit at its Pekan Production Plant to learn more on the production process of the Mercedes-Benz C350e and the latest E350e. The tour covered specialised requirements placed to produce a Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV) including upskilling staff, technology and provisions of safety equipment. The latest investments in its Pekan plant is its paint ship which has a production capacity of 10,000 units per year equipped with state of the art robotic painting systems and is the first to use a 360-degree conveyor system in the ASEAN region.
The production plant produces the C-, E-, S- Class, GLC and Plug-In Hybrid production models. The DRB Hicom Automotive Manufacturing plant houses 1,400 employees producing cars based on the brand’s worldwide standard. The plant does not manufacture their own components which all of the CKD vehicles assembled as an aggregate with parts shipped in from Germany.
Ingor Robach, Vice President of Production, Mercedes-Benz Malaysia took members of the media on an entertaining guided tour of the production plant to give us a closer look at the assembly of the brand’s Plug-In Hybrid models covering the main areas of what makes a hybrid car, a hybrid. Ingor explains that hybrid drivetrains are a combination of an internal combustion engine and an electrical motor, to be specific, the electric motor is nested in between the engine and the transmission. Besides the blue brake callipers, the bright orange wires, which you are able to see in the engine compartment in most Hybrid cars today is the connector between the ion lithium battery and the electric motor.
The reason why these cables are coloured in such a way is that these cables are capable of transmitting 120 and above volts to the inverters, converters and to the electric motor. This means that if you need to repair a Hybrid car, do not touch or temper the orange cables. It is safe to handle the heavily insulated cables as long they are completely disconnected from the battery. For Hybrid models, the most important component is the Ion Lithium battery, which stores 290 Volts and weighs in at 100kg, which is installed at the back of the vehicle, in this case, a C350 e.
This is why MBM organised a training session with the Bomba June this year held at the company’s Training Academy in Puchong, Selangor, where a total of 40 Bomba personnel involved in a full day of training which covered both technical and hands-on experience to safely deal with hybrid and electric vehicles in the event of an emergency.
Much like building up a Lego toy, cars are assembled in a specific flow and order. Overriding the sequence can cause difficulties in assembling the car, which the installed parts can get in the way of other parts causing complications and time wastage. Think of it as building a house without its cornerstone. However, unlike most large factories in other countries, cars assembled at the Pekan Production Plant are done mostly by hand.
As mentioned, the cars are assembled as an aggregate, where parts were shipped via Port Klang from Germany in kits and pre-assembled locally within the DRB Hicom plant. Like in all Mercedes-Benz cars, the engines fitted in both the C350 e and E350 e come from Mercedes-Benz’s Untertürkheim plant in Germany. Be it Hybrid or non-Hybrid models, both the powertrain and body are combined in the “Marriage” station. Once that is done, fluids and equipment are installed into the cars.
All cars will need to go through a rolling road test bench called an “X Road” done similarly in other large Mercedes-Benz plants up to 110 km/h to check all of the car’s functions automatically. Besides that, every car will need to go through a 20-minute shower test which high-pressure water comes from the bottom, sides and ceiling to make sure that the water does not get into the cabin and other sensitive areas of the car.
Inspections specialists ensure the consistency of the car’s built quality and in good working condition. However, at this point, the assembly process is not over yet as the cars are taken on the test track to ensure that the car is drivable and inspected again to ensure that the car is roadworthy. Quality control does not end there; cars are picked randomly to go through an audit by well-experienced inspectors identifying minute differences in quality.
Therefore, the cars that are assembled in Pekan are no different from the ones assembled in Germany. The Pekan Plant will have to meet its Key Performance Indicators to ensure the cars are within specification and quality overseen by the brand’s headquarters in Stuttgart.
Some may point out and had argued that the cars assembled in Malaysia may not be similar to cars sold in Europe in terms of standard equipment and trim levels, will have to bear in mind that the cars are equipped strategically to ensure that all of the cars are priced fairly and fit the needs of its customers without cannibalising themselves. Regardless of trim and equipment levels, after witnessing first hand on how the cars were built, inspected and tested, there’s no doubt that Mercedes-Benz Malaysia delivers the brand’s promise “The Best Or Nothing”.