A look at the first German factory for Minis
In recent years, Mini has provided a lot of employment in Born, Limburg, where, among other things, the popular Countryman was assembled. Now the originally English brand is leaving the Limburg factory halls and the new Countryman will be the first Mini to roll off the production line in Germany. We travel after the model.
Strange actually: Mini has been owned by the very German BMW since the turn of the century, but until now no Mini has ever rolled off the production line in Germany. The fact that the new Countryman changes that is sad for the Dutch. The outgoing model is one of the Minis that are built at VDL Nedcar in Born, but BMW has other plans. It moves Countryman production to the factory that is actually the only logical choice: BMW Werk Leipzig. This branch has specialized in the production of the smallest BMW models since its inception. The 1-series, 2-series Active Tourer and 2-series Gran Coupé also come off the production line here, cars that, like the Countryman, are on the front-wheel drive UKL platform. That keeps things nice and clear.
‘Leipzig’ opened in 2005 and is therefore relatively young. We don’t know whether it is due to its age, but in practice the factory looks remarkably modern and fresh. No thick barriers or guard houses here, but just a parking lot from which every visitor can walk straight to the entrance. The entrance is impressive and consists of a large hall with daring architecture, where no wall seems to be standing straight. At the very top, just under the roof, the bare bodies are already visible. The theatrical presentation and the accompanying LED lighting make us suspect that this is a pure show setup, but we are assured that these are real, not yet completed cars. At the entrance there is also a restaurant and coffee corner, making the hall a meeting place for all kinds of quick discussions and an ideal place to receive visitors. The abundance of glass, the cleverly arranged lighting and the – typically German – spotless floor are in stark contrast to the rough, messy image that we know from other car factories and that has therefore formed an expectation pattern in our heads.
From Australia to America
It turns out that this is not just a facade, because the entire factory is remarkably clean and sleek. This is the very first time for the Leipzig factory that a car has come off the production line that does not bear the BMW logo. The arrival of the Countryman means that we have to work hard here. In 2023, ‘only’ 200,000 cars came off the production line here, but in 2024 this should increase to 300,000 cars purely due to the arrival of the large Mini. This coming summer, 1,000 BMWs and 500 Minis will roll off the production line here every day, numbers that are difficult for outsiders to comprehend. It is therefore not surprising that ‘a tour of the factory’ on foot is quite an undertaking.
Anyone who has never been to a car factory should definitely try to take a tour somewhere. The often robotized processes are particularly impressive and the logistics involved are absolutely unbelievable. Not only do the different models criss-cross each other on the production line, but they also come in different colors and designs and for different markets. Right-hand drive models for Australia, Gran Coupés for America and China and one of the last 1-series diesels for an inveterate diesel driver from Germany, it’s all mixed up here. Each car is equipped with a unique feature and that is apparently enough to ensure that exactly the right parts end up with exactly the right car at exactly the right time, even if that seems impossible. In any case, the Mini is in good hands here, although that was of course also the case in Limburg.
Factory Leipzig in figures
The spray hall alone takes up 138,000 square meters. That is even more than ‘Assemblage’, which is good for 112,300 square meters.
The press shop stamps together 160,000 parts every day.
Options and colors can be changed up to six days before production start.
BMW and Mini together offer 140 to 160 colors, some of which are only supplied ‘on request’.
The production of one car takes 32 hours from start to finish.
BMW Leipzig has four permanent doctors, so that help is always available quickly in the event of an industrial accident.
The Assembly department alone has a production line of 700 meters.
There are five small hydrogen stations spread throughout the factory. The mostly autonomous carts on which parts are moved through the halls are replenished there. By running the carts on hydrogen, BMW ensures that they are always available. Charging would take too long.
This year, 1,500 cars should roll off the production line in Leipzig every day. The Countryman accounts for a third of that.
The paint shop in Leipzig is fully automated thanks to 144 robots. People only walk here to keep an eye on things, although this department still employs 700 people.
A tour through the paint shop is no less than four kilometers long.
Assembly is and remains largely human work, even in such a modern factory. Only six percent of the work here is done by robots, the rest is done by humans. It is not surprising that BMW employs 2,000 people in this department.
In ten hours, a car goes through no fewer than 376 different production steps in the assembly hall.
Not the first EV
The new Mini Countryman is also available in fully electric form, meaning there is another EV on the menu at the Leipzig factory. Weather? Yes, again, because electric cars were built here for the first time in 2012. That year, the ActiveE, an electric and experimental version of the then 1-series Coupé, was released. Shortly after this experiment, BMW’s first production EV, the i3, appeared. That car was also built in Leipzig, just like the i-brand i8. Since 2005, the factory has been used for a varied range of BMW models, but always with relatively compact exterior dimensions. From the three-door version of the first generation, all generations of the 1 series were (also) built here, just like the first X1. The Coupé and Cabriolet were later transformed into a 2-series and shared that name with the Active Tourer, of which the second generation is now coming off the production line in Leipzig. The longer Gran Tourer was never made here, because it comes from Regensburg.
– Thanks for information from Autoweek.nl