System supervisor Alexandre Zettl has been working for smart since the birth of the brand, yet he feels just as inspired as he did on day one. After all, how could things ever get boring when the models passing through the paint shop keep getting more intriguing colors?
As a man of the first hour, Alexandre Zettl knows the smart plant in the French town of Hambach, Lorraine, inside out. Since 1997, the system supervisor has been working at smartville. Nowadays, he and his team are in charge of the paint shop where cars receive just the right shade of paint between bodywork and final assembly. The atmosphere here is almost otherworldly: A hint of spaceship, a touch of intensive care, no entry without protective coveralls. And ever since production started on the new smart fortwo, work has become even more colorful: The new smart is available in plenty of new hues – and in over 40 combination options of bodypanels and tridion safety cell, from mat moon white to metallic lava orange.
smart magazine: Mr. Zettl, you have been at the Hambach smart plant since 1997, i. e. ever since the birth of the brand. Does your job still excite you – or has it become routine by now?
Alexandre Zettl: Right now, a lot is new even to me and I enjoy the experience very much. For example, we have started up a brand new, state-of-the-art paint shop for the new smart fortwo.
smart magazine: Where and how does this particular system surpass the previous one?
Alexandre Zettl: Previous model ranges received a powder coating; now we use a more environmentally friendly wet-in-wet painting process. This required a complete refit of the technological framework, which in turn yielded several benefits: Now, we can switch colors more quickly and produce more cars within the same timeframe. And we can offer a larger color palette and paint more bespoke models. The powder coating only came in silver, black, and white options for the tridion safety cell – now customers can choose from six different shades.
smart magazine: Which hues are available for the body and body panels of the new smart fortwo?
Alexandre Zettl: Naturally, we offer black, white and red, then the metallic tones cool silver, black-to-yellow, midnight blue, hazel brown and lava orange, plus the mat tones moon white and titania grey. And then there is electric green, our traditional electric car color for the smart electric drive, which is still based on the predecessor model. Not to forget our BRABUS tailor made, which remains truly special: Customers can not only choose every color from the standard range in mat or metallic, but also pick their favorite color from more than thousand shades and the body is finished by hand in the paint shop.
smart magazine: And what is your own personal favorite?
Alexandre Zettl: I prefer the mat color titania gray. Very subtle, but sophisticated.
smart magazine: What particular steps does the introduction of a new shade involve?
Alexandre Zettl: Developing a brand new color takes around two years. Once the paint itself is perfect, the paint shop needs another six months to calibrate the equipment accordingly. These settings are extremely important to ensure that just the right thickness of paint is applied to the panels and to ensure that shine and shade are exactly right. After this so-called “industrialization” of new colors we focus on production monitoring and – if necessary – troubleshooting.
smart magazine: Could you describe your perfect working day?
Alexandre Zettl: For example, this would involve the introduction of a new production color taking as few tests as possible. If three or four chassis tests were enough to ready a color for mass production, this would not only make us faster, but also lower overall costs. After all, we treat each and every smart as if it was our own.
smart magazine: From a paint shop perspective, do you see more in the smart than a just “two-tone car”?
Alexandre Zettl: Definitely, a model that boasts this much interior space while taking up so little exterior space and also offering great handling and functionality is truly unique. I believe that, especially in metropolises, we will see more and more smart on the road – both as private vehicles and as part of the car2go car sharing scheme. This goes hand in hand with increasing connectivity and thus the increasingly natural use of different combinations of mobility options.
Watch our video “Behind the scenes in smartville” featuring logistics project manager Christophe Balthazard, paintshop coordinator Alexandre Zettl, engineer Claire Mutin who schedules the production process and quality control manager Raphaël Schuster.
All the images, incl. the header image: Philipp Wente