Where other car manufacturers allow people to see the factory and don’t really offer much else, Audi offers a host of options: conference rooms, a restaurant, a museum, and the list goes on. Perhaps not so surprising when you consider that the entire Audi site at Ingolstadt is roughly 2,700,000 square metres.
There are train lines running through the site (yes, these are part of the national train infrastructure), they have their own clinic (including their own medical personnel) and their own fire brigade. There are several supermarkets on site. Again, not surprising, as Audi has approximately 43,000 employees in Ingolstadt alone. Ingolstadt is not their only production site, they have several around the world, but it is the main one: Audi HQ.
Up to now I have visited, in comparison, rather small car manufacturers (Lotus, Aston Martin and Bentley). Audi is a whole different ball game!
First of all, you have to take a bus to the bodyshop (did I mention the site is huge?). At the bodyshop the obvious happens: the car bodies are created, all done by robots. I only saw a few people there and they are mainly there to step in when the robots get stuck for any reason.
After the body shop it was back into the bus to go to the production line. The assembly of the cars is predominantly a human job. The line moves slowly on while several people at each station do their assigned tasks. And, as with previous factories, the employees do move from station to station – I don’t know how often.
Some things are done by robots there as well, like the removal of the doors at the start of the line and the assembly of the windows.
The entire tour was two hours. And we had to walk rather fast.
I did find the whole tour very interesting, but, for example, we didn’t see any work on the interiors. So I do get the idea what we saw is a bit fragmented; we did not get the entire picture as I did get during tours I have been on before this one. Of course it does make sense. Because the site is so large and they churn out so many cars a day (approximately 1,500) it would simply take too long to let visitors see more than the bodyshop and the production line.
Perhaps surprisingly, they do manufacture the cars as they have been ordered. This means they do not produce so many cars of one model and then swap over to another model. They create several models at each site and these are created as ordered by the customer.
Part of the site is for suppliers. The suppliers provide parts required for the manufacturing of Audis and the suppliers are expected to provide these parts in the correct order – again, the order in which the cars have been ordered by the customer.
I would not expect a factory this big to produce in such a customised way, but they do.
Even though it was interesting to see how a large manufacturer works, it does feel a bit impersonal. As stated before, the tour went fast which meant we didn’t have that much time to ask questions. And I really did miss the personal touch I experienced in all previous tours. The other tour guides had a passion for the company they work for and the cars it produces. They also knew a lot of the employees. With Audi that’s almost impossible, so there was virtually no interaction with any of the employees. And I didn’t detect any passion for Audi itself.
The fact that the line in the bodyshop had stopped here and there didn’t help, but that can of course happen. The robots themselves also make it a bit hard to see what’s actually going on and what is being built. I think that’s a pity, because it is definitely interesting to see.
The main purpose of my visit was the factory tour, but obviously I had to visit the Audi Museum as well.
I had read that it’s not a very big museum. It is in a round building and the exhibition is spread over three levels. The lower level is a temporary exhibition which changes regularly.
It is true, the museum is not very large, but I made the mistake of trying to see everything in the 90 minutes before the start of my factory tour. This meant I had to rush the ground floor (the oldest cars are on the third floor).
There is a lot of information available. Each car has an information card in German and English which gives the specs and its history. In addition there are timelines on the walls giving information on the company’s history, the history of cars in general and on the development of engines and race cars. If you’re interested there is an awful lot to take in.
The history of Audi is interesting anyway. It started with August Horch who made cars. He later lost his own company due to a legal dispute. He then started Audi.
During the depression of the 1930s four companies (Horch, Audi, DKW and Wanderer) formed Auto Union. The second world war almost saw the end of Auto Union, but not quite. And from Auto Union came Audi.
It would go too far to give a more detailed history in this post, but there is a lot more to it than that.
Due to this history the museum has cars, bicycles and motorbikes from all brands: Horch, DKW, Wanderer, Auto Union and Audi. This makes the exhibit extremely varied and all the more interesting for any petrolhead.
Audi is quite well known for its racing heritage, and they’re still racing now. On display are several Auto Union race cars and a few Audi quattros. Audi’s history would simply not be complete without the quattros, now would it?
You don’t have to be a big Audi fan to be able to enjoy this museum. The history spans well over 100 years and due to the additional information on car history in general there is a lot to read and learn.
Audi’s current slogan is ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ (leading through technique) and this shows through the entire exhibition. Many times in its history the company (in whatever form or under whatever name it was operating at the time) introduced technology ahead of its time, or so they claim.
As I don’t know a lot about other cars at the time, I can’t verify their claim is valid. But it has made me curious and interested to see how much of their technology was indeed cutting edge (or better) at the time it was presented to the world.
One thing is clear: Audi is very proud of its heritage. Considering the variety of cars, the beauty of them and the number of famous/significant cars, I can definitely see why.