Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Audi at Ingolstadt

An interesting afternoon at Audi. First the chance to see some of the production facilities - the final assembly stage for the Audi A3 - and then a drive in the second-generation TT.

The plant made an interesting comparison with MINI's facility in Oxford which I visited last week. It's all on a much larger scale than Oxford - Ingolstadt is Audi's main factory and also houses the company's headquarters - but there was the same sense of calm order at both facilities. Car manufacture really is a fuss-free activity these days. It has to be. Everything is magnificently choreographed, and sequencing is central to the whole thing. MINI and Audi both build to order, so it's essential that the right bits arrive on time in the right order at the line so that the cars are built to spec. Today, some apparently minor issue caused a brief pause on part of the A3 line. The man from Audi said that delays cost EUR14,000 per minute - presumably that's the value of lost production.

Car factories are full of robots these days, so in most cases, they're no longer anything to get excited up about. But I saw one particularly impressive piece of kit at Audi today - the robot that fuels the cars as they leave the line. This sounds like a simple activity, but consider the following. Cars for the domestic market get 5 litres in their tanks while those going to some other markets get 15. Those cars that are being collected from the plant by their buyers get a full tank. The robot also needs to put petrol in petrol-engined cars and diesel into diesel-engined cars. And it's not just a question of choosing petrol or diesel; the spec for the fuel has to be matched to the conditions in the countries for which the cars are destined. The robot has to get it right every time - the conseqences of getting it wrong are dire.

The new TT has already appeared on the Verdict; the car we featured was the fastest 3.2 litre version with the 4WD quattro transmission but the standard manual gearbox. The car I drove today was the same model, but fitted with the magnificant DSG gearbox - now renamed S-tronic when fitted to Audis, although other VW group brands still call it DSG. Jolly nice, too.

Finally a small bonus; there's quite a lot of fuss at Ingolstadt at the moment about the new A5. Saw one here today. Perhaps even more interesting was that the arrival of the A5 has provided an excuse to dust off some of the older Audi coupe models to pose for photographs with the newcomer - including this great example of the original Audi Coupe S from 1969.

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