Ok, ok. Some of you have been suggesting that I wipe the slack-jawed look
off'n my face and tell you about my experience. In my defense I can only
say that you asked for it!
We visited the Ingolstadt facility first. Unfortunately, we arrived at
just about shift change time. It was honestly quite disturbing to be in a
sea of Audis! Everywhere, virtually every car on the road! A4s, A6s,
Coupes, A8s as far as the eye could see. I'm more accustomed to a ratio of
fine German autos where I am driving most of the ones in visible range.
Parking lots full of them, trainloads full of them. Aaaahhh! Seeing all
the Bimmers, Benzes and Audis all over the autobahns was one thing, but
this was making me twitchy.
Soon after the initial shock began to subside, we found ourselves in the
Visitors Center. A beautiful big glass dome, reminiscent of a 747 aircraft
hanger from a Buckminster Fuller portfolio. Inside, on the second floor
was the waiting area for expectant customers, and a railing one could peer
over in envy to see A4s, A6s, & wagons (aka Avant) being introduced to
their happy new owners at a slow and stately pace. Above us was a large
electronic screen with the names of the owners-to-be, and their time of
delivery. When the prescribed time came and with usual German precision,
a low tone announced the arrival. A door opened from the enclosed area
below and the gleaming machine rolled silently onto the rubberized
flooring. Ahhh. And for those of us not taking delivery, tons of cool Audi
knicknacks were available to placate us in the 'Quattro Boutique'. Then,
a peek at the cutaway A8 on display - very interesting, but what a tragedy
to vivisect this noble car! Sadly, we weren't able to reconcile the
lateness of our schedule with the factory tour. We skulked off to our
rented Renault wagon, and slouched down till we arrived at our gasthaus.
Then, a few weeks later we stopped in at the Neckarsulm plant, not quite
as flashy from the outside, but oolala on the inside! The tour guide
lavished my wife and I with English materials and a text book on Audi
history, equipped everyone in the tour with a set of wireless headphones
tuned to his microphone (rats, had to give the radios back afterwards),
and off we struck into the din. Look at all those aluminum chassis'
rolling about! Also interesting was the fact that Coupe (I mean Cabriolet
- I can't get over the similarities) production had been temporarily
diverted to Neckarsulm from Ingolstadt for reasons I didn't catch (my
technical German is nicht zo zer gut), so the cars were alternated A8,
Cabriolet, A8, Cabriolet... The production line moves at 11 mm per minute
if memory serves, and it is simply amazing to see the drivetrain and
chassis lines converging perfectly, melding 4.2 Quattro assemblies, 2.8
fwd assemblies, 3.8 fwd assemblies into their new homes. Elsewhere in the
factory, huge presses stamped out parts, armies of robots welded and
assembled and shuffled, but certainly many of the machines were had
skilled human operators controlling 3 story presses with ease. We stopped
in to see a video on the A8 fabrication process, and were told that we
would not be allowed to approach the A8 painting area, not for reasons of
our health, but so as not to introduce imperfections in what we were told
is the finest paint available in Deutschland. Also intersting was that
part of the Neckarsulm facility had been used by Porsche to manufacture
the 944 until recently. We ended the tour with a peek at a stealthy
looking A8 sporting a soon to be available satellite navigational system.
Just a couple travel notes, if any of you think you may be making a
pilgrimmage - Ingolstadt is not the most beautiful city in Germany.
However, we thought Neckarsulm a bit nicer, and we stayed at the nearby
town of Bad Wimpfen - definately worth the trip!
Sadly, pics weren't allowed in the factory. I'll see if I can scan
some images from postcards & brochures to put up on my page. More TT
And then, there was the Wolfsburg Volkswagon plant... but that's another