FRANKFURT - Volkswagen is rethinking the traditional concept of a car factory in a bid to establish itself as a credible manufacturer of luxury vehicles.
VW describes its new plant in Dresden, Germany, as an 'event center' rather than work place.
The plant will start producing the D1 premium sedan at the end of next year.
'Our aim is to be accepted as a premium-class manufacturer as soon as possible,' said a senior brand manager for Volkswagen who discussed plans for the D1 under condition of anonymity.
'Therefore, our strategy is to attract attention by breaking up established traditions.'
The manager said the D1 plant 'will be built from glass, not from concrete, and the layout is designed to turn it into an event center and meeting place rather than a working environment.'
The plant also features a top-class restaurant, entertainment centers and an art gallery.
'Nobody is waiting for a luxury car from Volkswagen, so we have to be better than our competitors if we want to be successful - and we have to be different,' he said.
With the D1 luxury sedan Volkswagen will enter a segment dominated by the Mercedes-Benz S-class and the BMW 7 series.
'We have to benchmark the D1 against the S-class,' the manager said. 'Since we are entering an entirely new market segment, we have to be better than that car.'
He said VW must not only surpass the competition in technical specifications, but with its entire luxury-car strategy.
'We have to close the image gap,' the manager said. 'We have to fill an emotional hole. This is normally a very long process.
'Dresden has a reputation for its hand-crafted manufacturing tradition (using china and porcelain). It is not an industrial city at all. Our production continues this hand-crafted manufacturing tradition.'
To ensure a clean appearance, all 'dirty' parts of the D1 production process will be carried out elsewhere.
Painted body panels are delivered from VW's Mosel factory, for example.
The logistics center, which handles the just-in-time delivery of parts, is located on the outskirts of Dresden.
To reduce truck traffic, Volkswagen has worked out a transport system using the old tram (Strassenbahn) railroads.
The production building itself looks nothing like a factory. There are parquet floors and white painted walls in the assembly area, and employees wear clean white overalls.
VW wants to turn the D1 production plant into an attraction where tourists, customers and Dresden residents can meet.
But it will be D1 customers who get the best treatment.
VW says they will get special attention from the moment they order their car.
'We want to turn this into a very special event, so that the (customer) relationship with the brand and the product deepens,' the manager said.
Customers will be allowed to visit the production line and follow their car along as it is being manufactured.
They can talk to employees who are assembling their car, and can leave their own fingerprint or signature on their car during the assembly process.
'This individual treatment of D1 customers posed a problem for our production department,' the manager said.
'What if something goes wrong? The customer will not want to wait at the end of the assembly line for his car if he has gone to the effort of traveling to Dresden to pick it up personally.'
Therefore, to ensure just-in-time delivery to a customer, VW decided that it must have at least two of every part which could possibly break or be damaged in stock - in the right color, the right trim, and in the right specification.
'That's so we have a safety net if something goes wrong, and we can ensure that the customer goes away totally satisfied,' the manager said.
After the car has left final assembly, the customer can take part in the obligatory water test in his personal vehicle, and he can enjoy a ride on the underground test track, where the vibration test is carried out.
Besides the activities surrounding the car, VW will also offer a complete holiday package. It will be tailor-made to each customer's individual desires and preferences.
The package will include hotel arrangements, visits to the Dresden Semper Opera, and other tourist attractions.
'For overseas customers from the USA we are also happy to arrange an all-inclusive three-week 'visit Europe' tour program, we will do what we can to fulfill each possible wish,' the manager said.
The plans for Dresden illustrate how serious VW is about the luxury sector.
'We face a market polarization in the whole car industry, as it moves toward the small car and premium segments, and squeezes the medium segments,' the manager explained.
'In 2010 only about 10 percent of all cars will be mid-range cars, but 45 percent will be in the small-car segment, and 45 percent in the luxury segment.
'We want to take part in that growth on both sides.'