Strong financial results will allow Audi to continue with its impressive new model launch programme and its international expansion; record production and sales numbers in 2014 confirm the market’s acceptance of its new models and the first quarter figures for 2015 suggest that another strong set of full-year results can be expected.
Audi benefits from being part of the Volkswagen Group, but it has certainly not been subsumed within this giant company and indeed has managed to achieve a distinctive market position in direct competition with its German rivals, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. As well as having a wide product range, it is also a recognised leader in diesel engine manufacturing and hybrid technology, both in production vehicles and motorsport.
Audi’s revenue in 2014 was over €53 billion ($58 billion), with an operating profit of €5.15 billion, or 9.6%; global sales were over 1.74m units and the company intends to sell even more in 2015. In Q1 2015, revenue was €14.7 billion, with a €1.4 billion operating profit, at 9.7% margin, a slightly higher ratio than in 2015. On the basis of Q1 revenue, it seems reasonable to expect the company to exceed its 2014 revenue total. Further growth can be predicted on the back of continued investment; Audi plans to increase its model range to 60 different vehicles when all body styles and powertrain variants are considered. The OEM will invest over €24 billion in new products and technologies by 2018/19.
Audi has already invested heavily in its production facilities and further investments will follow in the years ahead. This article looks at all of these manufacturing plants and their production line-up and capabilities, highlighting where much of the planned future investment will go toward continuing the company’s recent growth profile.
This factory produced over 600,000 vehicles in 2014 and is, after VW Wolfsburg, the second-largest plant in Europe; approximately 2,500 vehicles are produced every day, with over 40,000 employees, including design and engineering staff as well as manufacturing workers. The current production line-up consists of the A3, A4, A5 and Q5. The Q5 will stop production next year, with its replacement model to be made at a new Audi plant in Mexico.
A new facility is currently being built to make a smaller SUV, the Q1, which will start production in 2016. Ingolstadt will receive investment of around €500m a year through to 2019, with this money allocated to the bodyshop for the next A4, a new paintshop, the facilities for the Q1 and a new design centre.
Ingolstadt’s press shops work in both steel and aluminium, processing around 1,700 tonnes of steel a day. Audi has also installed hot-stamping press capabilities, in which sheet metal is heated to 940°C then placed in a die for stamping. The A3 and A4 have their own bodyshops, with 900 robots producing the A3, and 2,500 robots making the A4 bodies. Ingolstadt makes extensive use of just-in-time and sequenced deliveries; there are 14 suppliers operating in the nearby supplier park, delivering directly into the factory. In addition, there are two consolidation centres at Ingolstadt which co-ordinate parts, mainly body pressings and chassis parts, for delivery to Gyor in Hungary for the A3 and TT, and to Brussels in Belgium for the A1.
Audi has shown willingness to invest in a variety of key technologies which are aimed at marking it out from the competition. The best example of this is in lighting; Audi has the biggest transportable light tunnel in Europe, where it has developed skills in matrix-LED lighting. The Ingolstadt plant also has its own wind tunnel, with three test units, an aeroacoustics wind tunnel, a thermal wind tunnel and a climatic wind tunnel.
Ingolstadt has a satellite site at Muenchsmuenster, 30km to the east, which specialises in die-cast aluminium parts, hot- and cold-stamped pressings and suspension components. This new plant started production in late 2013 and will not reach full production until 2016. Audi Muenchsmuenster has some of the industry’s most sophisticated aluminium-casting furnaces, plus die-casting cells which have a maximum cycle time of two minutes and casting pressure of 4,400 tonnes.
In the press shop, there are two more furnaces for the hot-stamping line which can simultaneously accommodate 40 sheet-metal blanks, heated to 800°C (slightly lower than at Ingolstadt) in six minutes. The heated parts are then moved into two presses which use water-cooled tools that shape the red-hot blanks at around 600°C. A conventional cold press line has also been installed, at the centre of which is a transfer press working at a rate of 30 strokes a minutes and a lead press force of 3,200 tonnes. A strip-cutting line has been installed this year to feed the presses with automatically cut blanks.
Also at Muenchsmuenster is a suspension component production facility, making aluminium wheel mounts and pivot bearings, steel wheel hubs and cast-iron brake discs. By the end of 2016, seven lines will be moved here from Ingolstadt, meaning that each site will be able to make more than 50,000 parts a day.
Audi’s second plant in Germany employs around 16,000 people and produces over 270,000 vehicles a year. The factory makes some A4s (most being made at Ingolstadt), the A5 cabrio (the hardtop is made at Ingolstadt), the A6 sedan and estate, the A7 and the A8; the plant produces the S version of all these models, plus the all-road A6, the hybrid version of each model and the long-wheelbase version of the A8. An on-site subsidiary facility, Quattro, makes the R8 coupe and cabrio (Spyder), plus the RS versions of the A5 cabrio, A6 estate and A7.
Neckarsulm is also the centre of lightweight production at Audi, and the origin of the aluminium space frame concept for which the OEM is particularly well known. In addition, the lightweight competence centre has developed expertise in carbon-fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) which is used extensively on the R8. Neckarsulm engineering is also responsible for the development of the Audi V engines made at Gyor, plus the brand’s motorsport engines. The facility includes one aluminium-steel bodyshop and two all-aluminium bodyshops.