Making cars: Life on the assembly line in Opel’s home town

Nearly 800 cars roll off the line each day as staff convert metal shells into shiny marques

 

Working the line at Rüsselsheim seems tedious and tough. Each worker is expected to complete up to 7,830 tasks during their 7 ½ hour shift. In teams of five, they have one minute to carry out up to 20 tasks before the car moves on to the next station. All the while the line trundles on, snaking between the work stations. Man and machine work in sync to create the modern motor car.

Over two shifts per day, 800 staff on the line convert metal shells into recognisable cars, each one matching a specific order. And each day nearly 800 new cars roll off the line.

The staff are mainly middle-aged men. They spend their days on their feet, repeating the same tasks over and over to the low mumble of electric motors driving the tools and the regular fizz of air pumps.

It’s remarkable for seeming so mundane and yet complex as well, for the line is mixed between two models and a myriad of options that need to be fitted to the right car at the right time along the line. Every now and then you spot a right-hand model in the mix, and even the occasional Vauxhall badge.

The red-bricked plant is the beating heart of this German city, employing 14,000 of the 63,000 inhabitants. This is the epitome of a factory town. They can’t imagine life without Opel. At a currywurst stand in Frankfurt, the middle-aged sausage cook tells how he grew up under the shadow of the factory. What would Rüsselsheim be like without Opel? “Kaput.”

Despite the recent sale of Opel to French giant PSA Peugeot Citroen, securing the Insignia production pretty much assures their future for several years, as does the likelihood that any German government will fight tooth and nail to retain the factory.

But when the cuts come on the back of the takeover – under some catchily-titled rationalisation programme – some town is going to suffer. The speculation is that it will be the red-bricked plants in Luton and perhaps even the Vauxhall brand that will pay the price. The complications of post-Brexit production and the cost-benefit of having a brand that sells only in one country may see it sacrificed. So the line and Rüsselsheim will rumble on.

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