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CitroŽn's CX factory

It may have been too great an investment for CitroŽn alone, but its importance for the French motor industry of the future could be tremendous

by the Technical Editor

Autocar 24th April 1976

AS IS now generally well known, Peugeot recently merged with CitroŽn in a manner not altogether dissimilar to the way Leyland merged with BMH. Peugeot provided new strength, in cash and management terms. But what did they inherit as CitroŽn’s side of the bargain? Judging by a recent visit to the newest CitroŽn factory at Aulnay, near Paris, the answer could be quite a lot.
It was the financial strain of setting up Aulnay, at present entirely devoted to CX production, that helped make CitroŽn’s financial position untenable. On the other hand it is working: a superb modern factory already producing 500 cars a day from two eight-hour shifts and with plenty of scope for expansion. The CX has of course done very well. and its current production rate exceeds that of the old D-series in its heyday. None the less the plan is that as it expands, Aulnay will phase in a second model. A very small one? No, said CitroŽn, and left it at that. One is left to speculate on the still-existent gap in the CitroŽn range between the GS and the CX which would be so handily filled by a car of about 1.600 c.c. and roughly the same wheelbase as the Chrysler Alpine.
As yet Aulnay is far from being a "vertically integrated" plant in which raw materials enter at one end and finished cars emerge from the other. There is no foundry, no press shop even, and the whole vast place is in effect just an assembly building - so far. The pressings and some sub-assemblies come from Rennes in Brittany, the engines from the smaller, older CitroŽn factories in Paris; the suspension units come from Caen, the transmissions from Metz. CitroŽn obviously depend on good communications. The factory has its own railway marshalling yard and lies alongside the A1 motorway which runs north from the capital.
Very soon, Aulnay will lie in the “crook of the elbow” formed by the A1 and the new Paris outer orbital motorway. While the roads are good, Aulnay is not well served by public transport and depends on many of its workers arriving bycar, or in a fleet of nearly 100 CitroŽn-owned buses.The immediate impression made on a factory tourist is one of space. The main shops are very large: much of the floor space is taken up with several tracks moving in parallel. The scheduling of production depends entirely on computers (and there is no building for stock, only to order) and the overhead mechanical handling systems are very advanced. Specially-designed trays carrying complete “kits” of parts - all the internal trim items, for example - shuttle their way from store to line.

Above: Most of Aulnay welding is done in very specialised jigs - good for accuracy though difficult to adapt to other models. In this case, a welding jig is making up the entire screen aperture, a total of 72 welded points. Other jigs are bigger still
Below: Aulnay’s dependence on computer control of production led to the highly-efficient buffer store seen here, where bodies of all types and colours are marshalled into their final running position on the assembly line. Instead of overhead suspension, the bodies are picked out by the computer-controlled selector robot. In this way the store can be built higher than usual, and housed in a small side~bay of the assembly hall
Above: The power unit and transmission assembly line at Aulnay is typical of the overall approach, with a solid-floor assembly line enabling the worker to travel with the job and work at his own pace. Note the”fish-scale” method of turning the corner at the end of the line. Engines come to Aulnay from Paris, gearboxes from Metz

Apparently it was a design aim of the factory to eliminate the fork-lift truck as far as was practicable and certainly there were very few in evidence. Great emphasis is also laid on making the tracks wide and flat enough for workers to travel along with the job, moving back to the next station when they finish.
Aulnay is not heavily manned in relation to its size. There are 5,500 workers in total, of whom 4,800 are on the production lines. The proportion of immigrant labour is high, well over half, with Vietnamese as well as North Africans very much in evidence.
The production task is of course simplified by, having to produce only one model, though these days the CX comes in a number of variations. The standard saloon has been joined by the estate car somewhat behind schedule, one gathers, running properly for a couple of months only, accounting for about 10 per cent of production but increasing), the Diesel (16 per cent of all CX production) and a surprising number of the longer-wheelbase Prestige saloons. Body welding-up is done in large, fully-automatic jigs rather than the welding robots which are achieving wide popularity elsewhere; much of the machinery is French. So far, 140.000 CXs have been built in less than three years with 25 per cent - the proportion is rising - going for export.
At the moment the body assembly shop is noticeably “loose” with an air of relative leisure and several empty stations on each line. It is noteworthy that Aulnay’s expansion plans call for a press shop, and doubled final assembly capacity, but no increase in the body assembly facility. Clearly this is big enough already, and it means also that CitroŽn (and Peugeot) are more or less committed to carrying through the Aulnay expansion plans in full. By that time it should be capable of producing well over 1,000 cars a day. When this capacity is added to that of the enormous Rennes factory, which employs l2,000 people and builds all GS and Ami 8 models, one begins to realise that in the next decade CitroŽn - let alone Peugeot-CitroŽn - will be a force to be reckoned with.

Above: A special feature of the CX assembly line is the jigging arrangement which ensures perfect door alignment with no adjustment, reducing the need for skilled operators

I emailed Autocar and asked their permission to publish this article but they did not respond.
I assume therefore that they don't care.

© 1976 Autocar/2011 CitroŽnŽt