Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Best of Travelife 2012: Car heaven at the Audi factory in Ingolstadt


Reflecting at the start of 2013 on the wonderful TRAVELIFE that was in 2012, this is part of a series of blog entries that will look at  the best aspects of our never-ending, and never-endingly eventful travels. 

2012 was so full of indescribable and inspiring experiences -- and we're certainly looking forward to an even more wonderful Travelife in 2013


A blessed New Year to everyone
from all of us at Travelife Magazine.

We wish you a year of happiness
and an amazing Travelife.


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The entrance to the Audi Museum
In June, I got dragged all the way from Asia to a nondescript German town called Ingolstadt, which is about an hour's drive from Munich, to visit the Audi car factory and museum.

I use the term "drag" because I was pretty unenthusiastic about it from the outset. I'm not a car person, and visiting this factory also meant staying in what looked like a completely nondescript hotel nearby. Double whammy, as far as I was concerned.




ATTRACTIVENESS RATING

A visit to the Audi factory in Germany was not very big on my list of things to do. Personally, I would have rated it at about the same level as a visit to an oxcart making factory in Costa Rica or a silk weaving factory in Hangzhou, in terms of attractiveness -- meaning attractive to some people, but fairly uninteresting to others.


Scroll down to read more about the pretty amazing Audi factory...





NO LUXURY HOTELS HERE...

And if you read this blog, you'll know I love luxury hotels -- or at least interesting hotels -- and where to stay is usually a deal breaker for me. Well, as usual, I was in charge of booking the hotels for this trip, and when I began researching about Ingolstadt, I could find nowhere I would ever think of staying.

For luxury places, the only options were the nice hotels in Munich or a Relais & Chateaux hotel in the countryside towards Dresden, about an hour away. Both were not really feasible options because of our time constraints, so I had to look for some place in Ingolstadt itself.

The Audi factory and museum in Ingolstadt, Germany.
This is another of the cars we went all the way to see. 

A SURPRISE OF A SMALL HOTEL

We ended up taking a chance and booking a small hotel that did not look promising. But it was a choice between this and a business hotel which looked like a car factory itself, so I closed my eyes and booked the small hotel for the price of a lunch in a bistro in Paris.

What a nice suprise it was. The rooms were small but they were comfortable, tasteful and well-designed. The hotel had a lovely garden and a beautiful breakfast room that enchanted us all.

CARS, CARS AND MORE CARS

The Audi factory and museum in Ingolstadt, Germany.
Buyers who order custom-made Audis
get to drive their cars directly out of this showroom.



Meanwhile, the visit to the Audi factory was truly interesting. So in the end I was very happy to go. Sometimes it's good to extend past your interests and usual haunts, and experience things you ordinarily wouldn't do.

For this car factory visit, I have my friend A to thank. He'd insisted on a visit to this Audi factory as part of the trip, if he was coming along to Europe with us and driving for us in Austria and Germany, and patiently accompanying us on shopping trips.

This certainly widened my world a little bit more. 


The Audi factory and museum in Ingolstadt, Germany.
The engine of a vintage Audi car.


Part of the Audi HQ lobby has a coffee shop for employees 

SURPRISE, SURPRISE

What was so good about a visit to this car factory, you might be wondering.

First, it was an eye-opener in terms of the manufacturing process. The entire plant is clean and beautiful. The corporate offices are uber-cool in design while the factory is so clean that someone could probably roll around its floor with no qualms. No kidding. Not a speck of dust, no sign of oil, no mess anywhere.


It was clean and quiet, and everyone wore clothes without zippers or buttons so as not to scratch the cars, and used bicycles to get around. There were even paintings and art on the walls of this mammoth assembly line floor.

Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to bring in our phones or cameras so I'm only posting photos of the cars.

The lobby of Audi's corporate headquarters in Ingolstadt, Germany

But we did the two-hour Audi factory tour. Again, I was practically dragged kicking and screaming to this, but by the middle part I was just as fascinated as the others. Audi rolls out 2700 cars out of this plant everyday -- that's a lot of work -- and this kind of volume really requires clockwork efficiency.

Scroll down to read more...



They operate three shifts round-the-clock except on Sundays: 6 AM to 230 PM, 230 PM to 10 PM and then 10 PM to 6 AM.

The evening shift is the most difficult, of course, but it also pays better. Our guide said: "So young couples who have just bought or built a house usually like to take this shift."

Reception for all guests to the Audi factory

ROBOTS RULE HERE

The Audi factory and museum in Ingolstadt, Germany.
We were thinking of trading in our rental car for this...

Over 95% of the manufacturing process is done by robots. And seeing a whole floor of robots at work was really fascinating. There were no humans anywhere -- just robots and car parts or parts of cars being rolled to them via conveyor belts. It was all very sci-fi in feel.

The end process, however, is done by real people -- and that, too, was a big eye-opener. There was no noise, no stray actions, no things out of place. Just people smiling but working seriously on car after car after car. 

The Audi factory and museum in Ingolstadt, Germany.
A vintage Audi bike on display.


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to Munich via Amsterdam
Special fares available

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One of the two restaurants for Audi visitors.
Pretty good, casual food.


The Audi factory and museum in Ingolstadt, Germany.
A legendary Audi race car.

MARRIAGE EVERY 2 MINUTES

The last part of the process is the highlight of the factory visit. This is when the body of the car and the chassis are put together to actually make a proper car. Until then, it's just parts being welded, cleaned, painted or screwed on. In Audi speak, this moment is a "marriage," and a marriage takes place every two minutes here at the Audi factory in Ingolstadt.

The Audi factory and museum in Ingolstadt, Germany.
The famous Audi race car used at Le Mans.
The other interesting detail is how personalized some Audi fans want their cars. Our guide told us about a lady who sent in her favorite lipstick so that the designers at Audi could make up a color for her car that exactly matched this shade. Then there was the man who sent in his necktie -- yes, he wanted some color on his necktie for his car.

The entire process made me much more appreciative of cars. I really think of them just as something I ride in; but today, I saw them for the first time as works of art. Not the one-in-a-million kind perhaps, as those are rare, complicated, and difficult; but certainly the one in 2700 a day type.

It was just another day in a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife. But it certainly qualifies for our Best of Travelife 2012 list.





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