WOLFSBURG, Germany - Volkswagen AG's new Autostadt is more than a place where VW brands are displayed and customers can have fun collecting their new cars.
Neither should it be regarded as a leisure center - even though it has a museum, a hotel and a host of pavilions showing off all the VW group's brands.
'Automotive theme park' may be the most accurate description, say VW executives.
The Autostadt, which cost DM850 million (A430 million) to develop, opened here in early June. It represents a major project for VW.
'We want to become the company's center of excellence for service,' said Ferdinand Otto Wachs, head of the Autostadt operation.
'That's why we teamed up with Ritz Carlton - to offer the very best standards,' said Robert Buchelhofer, VW group board member for sales and marketing.
The American luxury-hotel management group will run the new 174-room Ritz Carlton Hotel on the Autostadt site. The idea is to transfer the standard of service offered by the hotel industry to the car business.
Ritz Carlton employees began the process by training 50 Volkswagen and Autostadt workers. The 50 are now spreading their knowledge throughout VW - right down to the production line and outside to the dealers.
'We want to change the attitude of our employees, and this only works when they experience what perfect service means themselves,' said Wachs.
'In the Autostadt they can, for example, get excellent cappuccino or espresso coffee. The service is fast and friendly.
'Back at the production line, they will question what is needed to achieve this perfection of quality and service in their own working environment,' he said. 'They will raise their level of expectation. This creates an immense internal pressure to improve processes and service at every level of the company. This is what we want. We want to speed up innovation processes.'
With the Autostadt employees' innovative wage agreement, Wachs said VW has made an important start to its goal of becoming a service-focused company.
The 2,000 Autostadt employees will work on a service tariff contract organized through the production workers' union, IG Metall.
Like a hotel, Autostadt is open seven days a week. Employees work a 38-hour week without extra pay for Saturday and Sunday working. The average salary for Autostadt workers is DM3,500 (A1,772) per month.
Wachs was also able to dispense with the strict German shop-opening rules, or Ladenschlussgesetz. Because it serves as a tourist attraction, Autostadt is allowed to sell souvenirs and car accessories on Saturdays and Sundays during opening times, from 8.00 am to 8.00 pm (6.00 pm in winter). Autostadt restaurants are open until midnight (10.00 pm in winter).
Wachs is confident that Autostadt will be profitable from next year. 'We expect an annual turnover of DM30 million,' he said.
Income is generated by the six restaurants, the Ritz Carlton hotel, the merchandising shops and the entry fees - DM24 per person.
VW forecasts say Autostadt will attract more than a million visitors a year. Every third year, its attractions will be changed completely.
Buchelhofer said the DM850 million investment is part of VW's marketing budget and will be written off over a period of 25 years. Advertising spending will be cut accordingly during this period, so the marketing budget will not rise out of proportion.