Home Game in Eisenach

FC Bayern München are currently not performing their best in the German soccer league. This unusual situation has been eating away at Marc Vockenberg, who has been a massive fan of these championship winners since he was a child. Vockenberg shakes his head: “They really need to wipe the slate clean.” The fact that he knows what he’s talking about here isn’t merely rooted in his love of the beautiful game – for which the scoreboard obviously always starts from zero.

As quality manager in Eisenach, Vockenberg supervised the launch of the Opel ADAM in 2013. Since May 2018 he has been in charge of the full launch of the Opel Grandland X in the same position. Preparations for the first batch of the compact SUV are in full swing at the Thuringian site, as the start of series production is planned for the end of August 2019. →

 

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“The Grandland X was a car that I could immediately imagine being produced in Eisenach.”

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The Launch Manager has now realized that his own preparations for the model began back at the beginning of 2017. Because of a partnership between GM and PSA, he worked at the PSA plant in Sochaux, France, for nine months in his role as head of Quality Assurance. As the contact for Opel, he supervised the series launch for the Grandland X. However, it wasn’t clear at that stage that the production would one day end up in Eisenach.

When Vockenberg saw the SUV for the first time, he was immediately impressed by it: “It was stylish and elegant, in a two-tone paint job with thick rims. It was a car that I could imagine being produced in Eisenach.” At a presentation of Opel’s future plans held on 9 November 2017, Opel Group CEO, Michael Lohscheller, then announced that the Grandland X would be coming to Eisenach. A short while later, Vockenberg was asked if he wanted to become Launch Manager, to which he of course agreed: “Things have come full circle for me.”


Starting from scratch: Vockenberg, 35, has been working at Opel for almost 20 years – after completing a student internship, industrial mechanic traineeship, and engineering degree, he became a quality manager, and is currently a Launch Manager.


He has been closely linked to the plant in Eisenach for almost two decades, hailing from Gospenroda, which is about 20 kilometers away. After undertaking a student internship, he began a traineeship to become an industrial mechanic with a vocational diploma in 1999. He continues to be captivated by one of the most modern automotive factories in the world, its production systems, and the sheer size of the site. “I wasn’t even able to find my locker room once,” laughs Vockenberg.

He completed his civilian service after his traineeship – and because a soccer career wasn’t meant to be – he began working the nightshift in final assembly and finishing, while attaining a degree in mechanical engineering by day. After graduation, he managed to make the leap from Production to Quality Engineering, where he was in charge of add-on parts for several years. In 2011 he got the opportunity to oversee the upcoming ADAM launch as quality manager. →

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“A vehicle launch is a very special challenge that fascinates me time and time again.”

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“That was the first time that I was jointly responsible for the different phases of preparation in a production launch. It is a very special challenge that fascinates me time and time again,” he explains. While he enjoys getting to know new employees who have to be integrated in the team, he is also captivated by “the fascinating stages of development for a new vehicle.” After the ADAM launch, he returned to Quality Assurance, before becoming the division manager responsible for ‘marrying’ the body shell with the chassis, and Director of Quality Assurance in December 2013.

And now, the next launch is on the horizon at Vockenberg’s ‘home’ plant. It could almost be considered a home game. However, this project won’t be simple. The employees in Eisenach will have to overcome a few hurdles before D-Day arrives for the Grandland X. The Corsa and ADAM models will be rolling off the production line by the beginning of May. The plant will then have to be converted for the launch. This is a project that neither Opel nor the Groupe PSA has ever grappled with before.


“It’s almost like a launch within a launch”: The Grandland X isn’t merely a new vehicle at the plant in Thuringia – it also represents a totally new architecture with new technologies, new dimensions, and a new IT system.


“While we are very familiar with making preparations for the production of new vehicles, this time we will also be introducing a totally new architecture at the same time,” says Vockenberg. “That means that we won’t just need to begin series production for the car, but also integrate each element of the new platform, including a new powertrain, a new technology, and new dimensions.”

The Launch Manager also says that this is why they need to adapt the IT system. “It’s almost like a launch within a launch – and that’s what makes it so special.” The existing IT system will be fully shut down before they get a new one up and running. Vockenberg: “There’s no going back – we need to look forward to D-Day. Once we have successfully completed the project, we will have achieved an important milestone within the organization. We will be integrated in the PSA organization as a result of this launch.”

The launch in late summer of next year will fall on the 20th anniversary of Vockenberg working at Opel. “That would be a nice present,” says the Opel manager. He and his employees have been undertaking painstaking preparation work to guarantee that the launch will be a success. Vockenberg gets in contact with the Launch Team in Eisenach every day, as well as employees at the sister plant in Sochaux, in order to pool their experience and tap into synergies. →

 

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“I always make an effort to discuss everything constructively and objectively at the earliest possible stage, and to focus on what’s most important.”

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“The Launch Team has gotten to know each other better and have really come together. We will have determined our tactic by the turn of the year. And we will begin the intensive training phase in January,” says Vockenberg, alluding to his background in soccer. And to continue the metaphor, he sees himself as occupying the role of coach. “I do my best to lead my team by supporting and advising them, and always stand by their side. But at the end of the day, the employees from the individual departments have to carry out the work themselves. I can’t take over for them.”

When it comes to his coaching style, Vockenberg favors flat hierarchies, which have been traditionally commonplace in Eisenach: “Simply handing down orders isn’t my thing.” After all, a model launch always requires a great deal of teamwork to go off without a hitch. “I always make an effort to discuss everything constructively and objectively at the earliest possible stage, and to focus on what’s most important. Every member of the team has to work together, and I plan out the strategy needed for them to do so.”

Vockenberg also feels the great deal of pressure that every coach famously experiences. “On the one hand, it’s not a bad thing, because the pressure is part of the appeal of the launch,” says the father of two. “But on the other hand, I feel like I’d be better off if production started tomorrow.” Even though he finds it hard to switch off, he knows how important it is for him to maintain a good work-life balance. He achieves this by spending time with his family and playing soccer, which he plays twice a week as a defensive midfielder. And as an FC Bayern München fan, he still follows his favorite club’s games – in the eternal hope that they will one day go through a new beginning of a similar nature.


December 2018

Text: Jens Hirsch, Photos: Marcel Krummrich