Green concerns driving new assembly plant design Small footprints are ecological bragging points of two new European assembly plants now in the pilot-production phase.

Volkswagen AG's plant for its new W12 "D" luxury car is in the middle of downtown Dresden, Germany. It rises three stories into the air to remain compact. Toyota Motor Corp. built its Yaris plant in the middle of huge acreage in an industrial park near Valenciennes, France, but it has less floor space per annual capacity of any Toyota plant.

"Being small optimizes the heating," said Toyota spokesman Bertrand Bellinger, "and energy use is really reduced to a minimum."

The Dresden plant also has a unique ecological feature. Ecologists were worried about a rare beetle that makes its home in tree bark in the neighboring park. To allay their fears, VW designed special interior lighting that would not disturb the beetles at night.

The two factories cannot be compared in normal ways. VW plans to build 30,000 cars a year, and Dresden is only a final assembly showroom. Toyota's capacity is 250,000 a year, and the plant includes not only stamping, body and paint shops, but a plastic injection area as well.

Another area of ecological concern in Europe is recycling. The heart of the Toyota Production System is the reduction of waste, and the new plant will recycle water and make a dedicated effort to ultimately send nothing to the landfill.

Honda Motor Co. Ltd. is adding a second factory to its site in Swindon, England, which will double capacity to 250,000 units a year beginning in 2002. Already, some waste from the production of the Accord, Civic and CRV is recycled, such as oil, sand, scrap steel and plastic, and 216,000 plastic cups a month. Honda has an objective of zero waste being sent to landfill by the year 2010.

"There's a strong move across Europe away from disposable containers," says Anna Kochan, technology editor of the newsletter World Automotive Manufacturing. "They are moving toward steel and plastic containers for parts that are returned to the supplier."

BMW AG will start production in January at its Hams Hall, England, engine plant. The factory has been lovingly landscaped, which is a recycling in its own way. The plant is built on the site of what was once Europe's largest fossil fuel power plant.

A machine shop on the ground floor will drill and grind crankshafts, blocks and cylinder heads for 400,000 1.6L and 2L gasoline engines per year. In the underground "technical basement" BMW will treat 11 million liters of cooling fluid per hour in 10 coolant and filtration systems.

"The filtration process means we can collect the swarf and separate it into three categories: cast iron, pure aluminum and aluminum-steel," says Jason Reakes, the Hams Hall spokesman. Sorting the shavings from the metal cutting operation increases its value to recyclers, and putting the operation in the basement "means there's no risk of contamination to the surrounding countryside," said Mr. Reakes.

BMW architects like going underground. The proposed Rolls-Royce plant in southern England will be built half underground and will have a living green moss roof, so that it disappears into the countryside.

It has been designed to resemble an estate. "As you arrive on the scene, you see a lush landscape," said lead architect Simon Dickens of the London firm Nicholas Grimshaw and Partners. "Your eye is drawn to the main building as you arrive in the courtyard. You see the assembly area and the pavillion, where you will go to meet the managers and find the client suites."

The open side of the assembly building facing the courtyard is walled in glass to communicate with clients and visitors, in the same spirit as Volkswagen's Glass Factory.

The roof has several large glass openings to admit natural light and natural ventilation. The paint shop uses waterborne paints, and the architects were forbidden to use silicon products for such tasks as glazing because it could interfere with the paint.

BMW intends to start construction on the $100 million project in April once it has approval of planners, and it will begin production of 1,000 cars a year in late 2002.

In general, Europeans are more concerned about the environment than Americans. In Germany, for example, nearly everyone separates their trash into piles of paper, glass, metal, etc. to make it easier to recycle.

Therefore, when automakers build new plants, says Ms. Kochan, "They're all doing something for the environment, as long as it's not too expensive."