Debrecen’s BMW iFactory Provides Glimpse Into Automotive Future

Interview

Hans-Peter Kemser

Hans-Peter Kemser, president and CEO of BMW Manufacturing Hungary Kft. talks with the Budapest Business Journal about progress at “Plant Debrecen.”

BBJ: June 1, 2022, was a significant milestone in the life of BMW Group Plant Debrecen. How do you evaluate progress in the factory since then?

Hans-Peter Kemser: A bit more than a year ago, we celebrated a real milestone for BMW Group, as this day marked the groundbreaking ceremony for BMW Group Plant Debrecen. During the past year, there have been great success stories that our plant and team can be proud of. The construction site, one of the biggest of its kind in Central and Eastern Europe, is progressing, with multiple phases carried out simultaneously. In April this year, we celebrated the topping out ceremony of the paint shop.

We achieved another major point of progress this spring when the first 100 apprentices were selected. They started their dual education program at our training center this September. We were happy to welcome the young students at our plant as their arrival is a vital step towards launching a new structure for vocational training in Debrecen.

BBJ: How long will it be until the factory is fully operational? When will the first models roll off the production line?

H-PK: BMW Group Plant Debrecen will start production in 2025 with more than 1,500 employees, and that will also be when the first model of the all-electric Neue Klasse, which will debut in Debrecen, will roll off the production line.

BBJ: How should we imagine full production in numbers?

H-PK: We will manufacture 150,000 cars annually; by then, one vehicle will roll off the production line every second minute.

BBJ: As you mentioned, Debrecen will produce the Neue Klasse EVs, an iconic name originally used from 1962 to 1977. What will distinguish this 21st-century incarnation?

H-PK: For the distinguishing feature, we should glimpse into the future of the BMW brand: electric, digital and circular. With our new iDrive, the BMW Group is bringing a display and operating concept to the next-generation cars, which enables an entirely new intuitive interaction between driver and vehicle. The next development leap will follow in the Neue Klasse in 2025. The future generation of BMW iDrive will transform the vehicle into a digital experience space. With BMW Panoramic Vision, a new multifunction steering wheel, central display and 3D head-up display as operating elements, the quintessential BMW user experience is being reinterpreted in all Neue Klasse models.

The future BMW iDrive will continue to feature the QuickSelect concept introduced in 2023. The system in the Neue Klasse is based on a highly integrated software architecture and uses the next generation of the BMW Operating System. The vehicle’s smart connectivity with the BMW Cloud, as well as the customer’s digital ecosystem, creates an immersive user experience and brings a new dimension to the human-car interaction.

BBJ: The Debrecen facility is designated as an iFactory. What sets it apart from previous BMW plants?

H-PK: Milan Nedeljković, management board member of BMW AG, Production, said: “In Debrecen, we are building the most advanced plant in the world. With our iFactory, we are setting new industry standards for vehicle production. Our investments underline our systematic approach to implementing e-mobility.”

The Debrecen plant will be the first unit within the whole BMW Group to be designed entirely along the iFactory concept from the initial planning phase in the spirit of three main pillars of the future of automotive production: lean, green, and digital. Lean stands for efficiency, precision and extreme flexibility; Green for sustainability, resource-efficiency and circularity; and Digital, for the active use of digitalization in data science, artificial intelligence and virtualization.

BBJ: How is recruitment going? Have you hit your targets for factory staff to date? Are you confident you can hire enough to meet all your immediate needs in an extremely tight labor market?

H-PK: The number of employees at BMW Group Plant Debrecen is significantly growing month by month: in September, the number of our employees was close to 900, including our apprentices. We are happy to see this progress, as it is essential to find the right associates with the right attitude.

BBJ: Thinking longer-term, how will you ensure you continue to have enough staff in the future?

H-PK: Culture is a central element for us because we believe it is the key to success. We always emphasize that we are building the future of the BMW Group here in Debrecen. We are one plant and one team. It means that our people and the company culture have played crucial roles in the past year’s developments. Everybody is important and adds special knowledge and contributions to our success. We strive to communicate and show this to our existing and future employees to ensure that the current great interest will also be characteristic in the long run.

BBJ: The BMW Group chose Debrecen to be the first iFactory. What do you think about the city?

H-PK: It is important to the whole BMW Group worldwide to be part of our local communities; therefore, it is also essential for us. We are committed to being an active member of Debrecen and its region. We already successfully participated in several events, such as the Debrecen Advent and the Campus Festival, where we showed the iVision Circular model for the first time in Hungary. Recently, we attended the 57th Flower Carnival with a sustainable “flower car” decorated with living plants, which we donated to local educational and social institutes.

The leading principle in all the above events was our commitment to sustainability, innovation and community. In all cases, it was fascinating to see the kind and warm reception from the public, and we were glad to introduce and convey the messages of our company’s commitment and culture to them.

Besides these, education is also in the spotlight when we talk about the future. We have great collaborations with educational institutes, from kindergarten to vocational training and university faculties. This way, we can ensure that the “future is being built here.”

BBJ: What other plans does BMW have for Hungary?

H-PK: Our company found a home in Debrecen. By building the future here, we are committed to the city and our employees and working on future successes together from our exceptional plant.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of September 22, 2023.

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