Audi employs nearly 88,000 people worldwide and is a critical source of profits for Volkswagen group. It currently offers a few plug-in hybrid models, including the A3 e-tron Sportback in the United States, but has no all-electric car in production as of yet. It is planning to unveil its first electric model, called the e-tron Quattro — an SUV-style vehicle — in 2018. That car is said to feature three electric motors, a 95 kWh battery, and more than 500 kilometers of range — as measured by the rather optimistic New European Driving Cycle.
The e-tron Quattro will be built at the company’s factory in Belgium, and that has caused the 43,000 workers at its main assembly plant in Ingolstadt to feel restive. They worry that the green car revolution may pass them by, leaving them with nothing to build. Audi is planning to introduce 3 all-electric cars by 2020, but Mercedes Benz says it is investing $10 billion to get 10 electric models in showrooms by 2022. The Ingolstadt workforce wants the company to pick up the pace.
Seldom in the annals of history have workers sought to have such a direct involvement in a company’s internal policy decisions. “Our core factory must be prepared further for the future,” Audi’s top labor representative, Peter Mosch, told a gathering of 7,000 workers on Wednesday. 7,000 people were in attendance at the Ingolstadt facility to hear his remarks. Mosch is a member of the Volkswagen board of supervisors. He is asking company management to provide him with specifics about how the shift to electric cars and digital services will affect the employment prospects of his people.
Rupert Stadler, Audi’s CEO, has already said that the company’s factory in Neckarsulm will begin manufacturing electric cars starting in 2020. That plant is currently where Audi manufacturers its A6, A7, and A8 models and employs about 16,000 workers. The crew at Ingolstadt want to make sure they don’t get left by the wayside like Conestoga wagon makers were at the dawn of the automotive age.
Audi’s workforce seems to be more in tune with what is happening in the automotive marketplace than management is. The company was originally dismissive of the challenge presented by Tesla but now sees the error of its ways and is racing to catch up.
Editor’s Note: Granted, automakers will be in a world of hurt if they move very fast into EV production. They have a lot of money, worker expertise, intellectual property, and factory equipment sunk into gasoline and diesel engine production. Switching to EVs overnight would mean writing off a lot of machinery, losing competitive advantage, needing to retrain workers, and, basically, going into the red.