Audi was quite the adventure today, and I went home today thinking how I really wouldn’t mind buying myself an Audi. I might need a bigger suitcase.
Our morning started early with a two-hour bus ride to Ingolstadt, Germany, which is the world headquarters for Audi. Our bus pulled up to what was one of the biggest companies I might have ever seen. We drove through their campus for ten minutes just to get to the visitor center.
I was greeted by a couple of new demo cars, and I, of course, had to take a seat. First thing I noticed was the steering wheel. Audi has a sleek, racing style steering wheel that stood out from anything I had seen before.
After daydreaming about future cars that I want to buy, we met our tour guide and heard a brief presentation about Audi’s headquarters. We then prepared for the factory tour, where they produce the A3, A4, A5, and Q2 model vehicles. Since it is a major car company, I thought that our tour would be very broad so that they would not show their patented technologies or manufacturing designs, but I was able to watch the construction of a car from the ground up.
Audi has been doing a lot of innovation with aluminum and carbon fiber, so they have been making cars lighter but still safe. I immediately thought about our Hirschvogel tour, where Hirschvogel is designing lightweight, forged aluminum components in a honeycomb shape that is lighter but stronger than steel in a car crash.
Again, I was not allowed to take any pictures, so it was disappointing that I cannot share any of the manufacturing processes. My favorite part of the assembly line was the speed in which the robots can fabricate the aluminum body panels for their cars. For the entire aluminum fabrication of their vehicles, Audi only uses robots and autonomous welding. There were dozens of robots working in unison together. It must really take a long time to code each robot to coordinate with each other. It was so impressive to watch them accomplish what it would take humans so much longer to complete.
I asked our tour guide if she thinks robots will eventually take over the entire assembly line and not just the initial fabrication. She thinks robots will be incorporated for more tasks on the assembly line, but she does not think it will be completely autonomous. There are too many specific parts to install when putting in different parts or options for the different levels of a car. Higher end cars need more specific assembly work that is drastically different than a base model vehicle, and right now, the code that would need to be written for the robots would take way too much time.
After the tour, we had free time to look at the Audi museum. The museum was interesting, but I thought it would have been better. There were only older cars there, and I was not able to look at any newer models.
We concluded our tour with a presentation from two of Dr. Feick’s colleagues, Mr. Guido Bauer, and Mr. Patrick Will, in Audi’s business department. Like Hirschvogel and Continental, Audi is really focusing on megatrends for the future of their company. Again, Audi talked about autonomous vehicles, electrification, and lowering emissions. By 2050, Audi plans to have zero emissions, which is a very ambitious plan. I think their goal is a result of Volkswagen’s Dieselgate, but the European population is much more committed to lowering emissions than the United States. Here in Germany, everyone has fully accepted that global warming is real.
Mr. Bauer introduced the new Audi E-Tron, which is Audi’s first electronic vehicle. After years of discussions, Audi decided to create an SUV because of the high SUV sales growth in the USA and in China. I asked Mr. Bauer about battery health, and how much it would cost to replace a battery that starts to lose its full capacity. Audi explained that they created a new technology in their batteries that allow them to retain their total capacity than typical smartphone batteries. As a result, they estimate that the battery will last for about 8 years. They estimate that the battery health will remain at about 90% for a full “lifespan” for a car. Mr. Bauer said that the batteries are too expensive to replace, so battery replacements, as of right now, would not be appropriate.
I believe electric vehicles would completely alter the used car market and cause high demand for brand new vehicles. Unfortunately for consumers, that means that they will have to pay high prices and they also will not be able to re-sell their vehicle. They plan to reveal the E-Tron to the USA in the next couple of months. I got to sit in the E-Tron, which was on display in their front lobby!
We traveled back to Augsburg and I ate my first Doner, which is a Turkish Gyro sold here in Germany. They are cheap, and they are very tasty. I will be going back for more.
I spent the night recovering from the walking we did at Audi’s headquarters and got a good night’s rest.