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Exclusive Interview with Hans-Peter Kemser, Director of BMW Group Plant Debrecen

Dániel Deme 2022.06.17.

– At the beginning of June the foundations were laid for the new BMW plant near Debrecen. Could you tell us about your role in the planning and negotiations coming up to this symbolic act, and what your responsibilities will be in the plant, now already in progress?

– At the BMW Group, a project of this impressive scale is always developed and implemented by a professional team. At our new plant in Hungary, this included colleagues in Debrecen, from our corporate headquarters and from our global network.

Briefly about myself: In 1997 I graduated from the University of Virginia and joined the BMW Group in plant Regensburg. Over the past 25 years I held various management positions in production and production planning in Regensburg, Dingolfing, Berlin, and Oxford. During the last six years I was the managing director of BMW Plant Leipzig, and since January 2022 I have been the director of our BMW Group Plant Debrecen.

– The project had to face several delays in years past, but BMW, in cooperation with the Hungarian government, seems to have triumphed over these obstacles, refuting many of their skeptics. What were the driving motivators and envisioned benefits that made you insist on the success of this project despite all the difficulties?

– In the unprecedented situation of the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the BMW Group showed that it bears a unique responsibility and relies on flexibility and sound judgement to guide the company through the coronavirus pandemic. The company has responded to this unique situation with forward planning and by adjusting production in advance. Therefore, it was decided in 2020 that the timeline should be adjusted and construction should proceed at a slower pace. There has never been a doubt that we remain committed to our plans for a new plant in Hungary. The decision to build the plant underlines the BMW Group’s long-term growth prospects.

The computer generated plans of the future BMW plant near Debrecen

– The Hungarian economy, in line with the European, is facing shortages in the workforce. What are your plans for recruitment, how do you want to compete with other large employers in the region, and crucially, what sort of training programs are in the pipeline for your prospective employees?

– The BMW Group is known worldwide as one of the most attractive employers in our industry and beyond. In addition to fair wages, we will offer our future employees an attractive working environment focused on employee orientation. Furthermore, the BMW Group is known for an outstanding corporate culture, characterized by openness, trust, and transparency. And not to forget: Our high level of qualification and the opportunities to develop and build competence at BMW. We are confident that this will enable us to recruit the required number of employees.  At the moment we are recruiting for several positions with different profiles and areas. Construction of the BMW Training Center at Plant Debrecen is already underway, in preparation for September 2023, when local vocational training will be launched as part of a dual course of study. Three-year training programs in four professions will be delivered by eight training instructors to prepare 70 apprentices every year for proficiency examinations.

– Can you tell us about your local partners, suppliers, and in what way can this project benefit the wider Hungarian economy?

– First of all, Debrecen is the ideal place to extend the BMW Group’s production network. It has a very good infrastructure with the required logistical links and an established local supplier network. These were among the key reasons for choosing this site. The selection of suppliers is a longer process. First suppliers have been nominated already. This will continue through the next months and into the next years. We are looking for suppliers not only for the parts that go into our vehicles but also for various services in the plant.

Important partnerships have already been established in the area of education: we have a cooperation with the vocational schools – Mechwart and Brassai – to implement vocational training.

It will be the first plant worldwide for our future generation of electrified cars. We call it the NEUE KLASSE. The Neue Klasse comes with a completely new vehicle architecture and a new generation of electric drivetrain. This offers us the opportunity to rethink production. We will integrate new processes and latest technologies and we will use the opportunity to implement innovations in a new dimension. The new plant will offer more than 1,000 future oriented jobs over the next two years.

We are very much looking forward to many Hungarians becoming part of the BMW Family – from apprentices up to managers. I am sure the combination of local know-how and culture – with the BMW Spirit will shape outstanding teams, full of passion and creativity.”

– How do you find working in the Hungarian business environment? Is it transparent and professional enough to be comparable with equivalent Western-European business contexts? On the Hungarian government’s side, have commitments of support and partnership been met as far as BMW is concerned?

– During the last years and months, we experienced in many ways how the government and the authorities here in Hungary welcome business – open minded and highly professional. I want to express my sincere thanks to everyone involved in the realization of this project.

The cooperation with the local authorities and the city of Debrecen was and is characterized by a high level of professionalism and the common strong will to make this highly innovative project a success.

And I am looking forward to continuing our joint efforts in the coming years as BMW Group Plant Debrecen takes shape and prepares for a bright future. Our investment here in Debrecen is a long-term decision – not for years, but for decades to come.

Foundation Stone Laid for New, State-of-the-Art BMW Plant in Debrecen
Foundation Stone Laid for New, State-of-the-Art BMW Plant in Debrecen

The €1 billion investment is expected to allow the yearly production of 150,000 cars of the fully electric Neue Klasse.Continue reading

– Can you reveal some of your trade secrets for our readers? What sort of technologies, technical innovations do you expect the first cars rolling off the Debrecen production plant to contain that are yet uncommon, or are expected to be groundbreaking? Where do you put the emphasis in terms of your future technological vision?

Of course the new plant will offer additional capacity for our global production network. When production is launched, it will set standards in terms of flexibility, digitalization, productivity, and sustainability. We are establishing a full vehicle plant in Debrecen with a press shop, bodyshop, paintshop, and assembly. Built on a property of more than 400 hectares to the northwest of the Hungarian city, it will have a capacity of about 150,000 units a year. Our new plant plays a key function in the rollout of our new cluster architecture, creating pure electric mobility on a greenfield site. The Neue Klasse is designed exclusively for electric drives, and in the middle of this decade, the new architecture will launch for the very first time in the new plant in Hungary. It will then be gradually rolled out across the production network. We will set new standards in regards to sustainability: We will not use oil or natural gas and will source any electricity that is needed purely from renewables. That means that our plant in Debrecen is the first in the world to deliver CO2-free vehicle production. Much of the energy needed will be generated by extensive photovoltaic systems directly on the plant premises. The rest will be sourced regionally from 100-percent renewables.

Furthermore, the BMW Group is adopting new approaches to digitalization in Debrecen – including right now, as the plant is being constructed. Digital planning tools are being used to an unprecedented extent to design every last detail of the entire production process virtually. Within production, we will use numerous digitalization tools as well. Artificial intelligence (AI) applications will support quality assurance in a range of ways and optimize processes in smart and predictive maintenance. The spectrum of digital applications will also include edge computing, data analytics, 5G location technologies, and autonomous smart logistics systems with AI functions. Digitalization offers huge potential, and we are going to exploit it fully and intelligently in Debrecen.

With all the opportunities and offers of the region and the city of Debrecen, this is an excellent place to build our unique and completely rethought plant. This is where the future of BMW is being built.

Featured image courtesy of BMW Hungary.

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