Audi aims to fully utilize its production capacity for the e-tron electric SUV in Belgium before the end of the year, reaching maximum output assuming its supply chain does not falter.
Production of the e-tron started in September as planned and on time in Audi's Brussels plant, the head of the factory said.
“We believe that at the end of the year, we will reach our maximum capacity,” said Patrick Danau, managing director of Audi Brussels, declining to quantify what that would be. The French analyst firm Inovev predicts annual output will be 20,000.
The Brussels plant will add production of the e-tron Sportback in 2019.
Danau said retooling the plant was a challenge because pre-series production of the e-tron had to be integrated onto the same high-volume assembly line used to manufacture the A1, a high-volume small hatchback offered with combustion engines only.
To make room for the e-tron models, A1 production will be moved this year to Audi sister brand Seat's factory in Martorell, Spain.
To get ready for the full-electric cars, Audi added more than 7,500 metric tons of steel, equivalent to the Eiffel Tower, and more than 20,000 cubic meters of concrete to reinforce the Brussels buildings.
Additionally, the factory’s logistics center was transformed completely and now is the site of production for the e-tron’s 95 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery.
Finally, the plant’s 3,300 workers received more than 200,000 hours of training before the first finished electric SUV rolled off the line. A fifth of the workers are temporary and were added to prepare for the e-tron.
Danau said that while he hoped to reach full capacity, he voiced caution because not everything was in Audi’s control.
“You have to bear in mind not only the company has to ramp up but also the different suppliers,” he said. “They have to train their people, start their own new facilities and bring them up to the same speed that we are giving according to the plan, so that is a challenge for all of us.”
Suppliers include new companies such as Kienle + Spiess, which supplies the rotor that drives the axle. At the same time, Audi chose to manufacture the stator, which generates the rotating magnetic field that sets the rotor in motion.
Another supplier is Audi’s factory in Gyor, Hungary, which builds the electric drive axle — a combination of an electric motor, transmission and power electronics.
Instead of a conventional conveyor belt that moves the drive units from one station to the next, in Brussels automated guided vehicles transport them from one workstation to the next.