It takes about a half hour driving north from Wolfsburg along a lonely stretch of route A300 to reach Ehra-Lessien, Germany. It's a speck on the map. There's nothing around for miles. Well, almost nothing.
After passing through a dense forest, a clearing opens to reveal Volkswagen's secretive proving grounds. Signs at the front gate tells visitors "radio transmissions are monitored" and warns about an infestation by poisonous caterpillars. While home to a small staff, Ehra-Lessien is best known as the site where a select group of Volkswagen's top global executives spend three days annually taking part in coveted, classified test-drives.
Once inside, the center resembles Q's workshop from the James Bond movies. VW's brightest minds are working on solutions to the industry's most daunting challenges and it was here that the group's Sedric concept car, a futuristic self-driving pod, was born. Automotive News Europe, along with a handful of other publications, was given a rare glimpse inside this r&d mecca.
Escorted to the main building, the Scirocco Hall, we are shown prototypes grouped into the three major megatrends of electric vehicles, autonomous driving and shared mobility.
"It was not an easy decision to invite you here," VW Group r&d boss Ulrich Eichhorn told reporters. Even VW employees have their mobile phones confiscated. "But the board decided that in the spirit of openness, we would show you some of the things that normally would stay secret for another two to five years."