What exactly is Volkswagen’s Autostadt? Is it a brand museum? Is it a theme park? Or is it something else? It’s hard to get a grasp on it, and I suspect that for many potential visitors, while that might not put them off visiting, it might lose Autostadt a few places on their ‘must see’ list.
The answer is: Autostadt is all of those, but first and foremost it is a delivery centre for new VW cars.
Back in the old days everybody bought a new car through a dealership, but here in the 21st century we buy things online. Most VW buyers outside Germany will collect their new car from their local VW dealership regardless of whether they bought it through the dealer or online, but German buyers can collect it straight from the factory, and many of them do.
However that is a bit of a logistical problem. The VW plant at Wolfsburg in Lower Saxony churns out around 780,000 cars a year*, that’s over 2000 cars a day and of those, around 500 a day are collected from the factory by their new owners. So, imagine the scene in the huge car park…
“Horst, Mr Schmidt is here for his new Golf. It’s in Row 51R, space 82. Can you get it for him?”
Poor Horst has to find the right car, hoping one of his colleagues hasn’t parked it in the wrong space or in one of those spaces near the wall where he’ll have to move another car out of the way so he can manoeuver it out. He’ll need to check it hasn’t been scratched, wash the dust/snow off, fix the new number plate on, and bring it back to the front desk for Mr Schmidt… and he & his colleagues have to do that 500 times a day.
Here comes the really clever partVolkswagen saw this problem coming and in 2000 they built two 48m high glass-enclosed car parks – fully-automated and computer controlled. As new vehicles roll off the production line they are conveyed through a tunnel to the towers where robotic lifts carry them up into a space to await their moment of delivery in factory-mint condition. Not a human involved, no dents or scratches, no dust, no snow, and no missing cars.
If that wasn’t clever enough, here comes the really clever part.
For most people, buying a new car is a major moment; a moment to be savoured, an experience to be enjoyed, a real day out – ‘bring the family’!
So Volkswagen turned the collection process into an event, and the delivery centre became part of a theme park with gardens, children’s playgrounds, retail outlets, food outlets, brand pavilions (for VW brands), art & performance venues, a motoring history museum, driving experiences, and even a 5-star luxury Ritz-Carlton hotel.
And you don’t have to buy a Volkswagen car to enjoy it!
(I think they might be missing a trick there: “Mummy, you haven’t bought a new car for ages and we want to go to Autostadt! Pleeeeeze!”)
Visits start at the cavernous reception centre. From here you can make your own way around Autostadt or take a guided tour. Our guide, Renke Niemann, was a walking database of VW production and history.
“Tell me, Renke, what is the mix of fuel types you make these days?”
“Well, a decade ago it was roughly 50/50% diesel/petrol. Now there are hardly any diesels and some models have no provision for a diesel engine at all. These days 20-25% are electric and 5-10% hybrid”
“So electrics cars are beginning to dominate, despite range anxiety?”
“The models with the biggest batteries can do 560 kms now, and it keeps increasing. But just as important now is the rate of charge. When the ID.3 first came out, they could use 120kw chargers. Then a few weeks later it was 125kw, and now the ID.4 can charge at 170kw. And all of these are purely through software updates”
He never paused, never checked his phone. There wasn’t a question he couldn’t answer and expand on**. Ask for him by name if you get a chance!
As we walk through the landscaped gardens and water features on our way to one of the towers, we pass an outdoor auditorium, used in the summer for concerts and other performances. There’s a fairly packed programme of concerts during the year and in December there is a large Christmas festival held in the park with a 6,000m² ice skating area.
Some visitors come for practical reasons. Autostadt offers safety training for car, van and RV drivers, and motorcycle training courses.
The park’s all-terrain track gives drivers a chance to try their 4-wheel drive, off-road skills for fun, or in a safety training course, to practise evasive manoeuvres, skid control and ascents on different road surfaces.
Auto Towers and Delivery/Customer Centre
The two vertical car parks can hold 380 and 375 cars each, a total of 755 cars awaiting their owners. What’s astonishing is that there is a continuous high-frequency cycle of cars being stored and retrieved, so when you look at a tower, all the cars you see will be handed over to their owners today, or tomorrow.
The lifts (there are two in each tower) are reportedly the fastest car lifts in the world, travelling at up to 2m/sec. Sounds impressive but really, is there much competition? Well, apparently more than you would think. A number of major cities like New York & Tokyo have automated car parks, and many motor manufacturers have followed VW’s lead and built similar storage systems.
As we watch the cars moving about in Tower No.2 we also notice some people on an enhanced tour inside the tower where they can see the system up close. There is even a special tour for romantics to get engaged at the top of the tower.
Just across from the towers, again connected by tunnel, is the Customer Centre where car and owner meet for the first time… and literally start from scratch with zero kilometres showing on the odometer – one of the perks of a factory collection!
Buyers & guests wait in the lounge upstairs (there’s a play area to keep youngsters amused) and then, when their new car is brought onto the floor, they go down to collect it.
How long does that handover process take? Usually around 15 – 30 minutes, but some new owners, especially those transitioning from a petrol car to an electric car or hybrid, or from a manual to an automatic car, might want to take their time to fully understand their new car. There is no rush. The staff will stay with them as long as it takes. Some of the staff have had 2 – 4hr handovers.
What’s the quickest handover? Well there was one guy, says Renke, who phoned ahead to say his wife had gone into labour and he needed his car really quickly! They retrieved the car and sent him on his way in 10 minutes!
The red car in the foreground (above) is slightly unusual. Renke explains that Germans tend to prefer plain colours. Only 8% of cars sold in the German market are red or blue. The rest are Black, White, Grey and Silver.
The Brand Pavilions
The Volkswagen Group has a lot of brands and some of them are represented in the park in their own pavilions – VW itself, Skoda, Audi, SEAT, & Porsche.
Here is where you can see the latest models and concept ideas. In the case of the Audi pavilion there are four state-of-the-art Audis to drool over. It’s a bit like a car showroom, with staff hovering nearby to answer questions, and I’m guessing, take advance orders.
The ZeitHaus Museum
For non-VW-buying petrol heads and classic car enthusiasts, the 5-storey ZeitHaus Museum is a ‘must see’.
Who doesn’t love an E-type Jaguar!It is a collection of historic cars that have in some way been revolutionary and/or influenced the global auto industry. The cars displayed here are changed from time to time, but whatever the display catalogue, there are some spectacular automobiles in here!***
It’s roughly chronological and it starts at the top with a replica of Carl Benz’s 1888 Patent Motorwagen (the one his wife, Bertha, famously ‘borrowed’ to go visit her mum in Pforzheim, 106 kms away).
For me, the highlights were the Rembrandt Bugatti, some of the early streamlined cars, and the E-type. Who doesn’t love an E-type Jaguar!
And speaking of Bugattis…
The Premium Clubhouse
… has just one beautiful exhibit. A Bugatti Veyron 16.4 in a mirror finish and in a mirrored setting.
The only other exhibit in the clubhouse is also pretty stunning; the Bugatti Veyron’s 16-cylinder, 8L, 1,000+ HP engine.
The Veyron may no longer be the world’s fastest production car but this engine will still push it along at over 400 kph. Its assembled 3,700 parts – some of them in titanium, magnesium and aluminium – make it a work of art in its own right.
* that figure dropped to around 500,000 during the pandemic and supply chain crisis in recent years, but has recovered more recently.
** Of course Renke could have been bullsh*tting, but I was with a group of journos who can normally detect a bullsh*tter within a heartbeat!
*** VW have a secret depot somewhere where they keep the bulk of their classic car collection. There used to be a top-of-the-range tour package which involved staying at the Ritz-Carlton and then being taken in a classic car to the depot for a private tour, but they’ve stopped that now for security reasons.
Declaration: I was on a press trip to the region. The Autostadt visit was complementary. As usual, all views my own.
If you are driving it is around 20 mins off the A2 autobahn which runs between Berlin & Hanover. It’s easy to find. Wolfsburg is a bit of a ‘one horse town’; there’s the Volkswagen plant and Volkswagen Autostadt and they are right at the heart of the city.
The train station, on the InterCity IC-141 & IC 143 routes, is a ten minute walk away from Autostadt.
If you are flying, the nearest airport is Hanover. BA fly to Hanover from Heathrow.
If you plan to stay over there are a number of on-site and near by.
- Ritz Carlton 5-star, on site
- Courtyard by Marriott 4-star, 2 km
- Global Inn, 3-star, 3 km
- And the cheapest option of all: if you have your own RV or caravan you can stay in one of the Autostadt car parks for 9 euros a night (max 3 nights) water & electricity included.
Autostadt is open 363 days a year, from 10.00am to 6.00pm. (Restaurant opening times differ, and so do the opening hours for the Delivery Centre.)
6.00pm is when the pavilions, exhibitions, museums, and shops close, but you can still wander around the park in the evening.
|Reduced price*||€ 14.00|
|Child (6-17 yrs), student (to 17 yrs)||€ 6.00|
|Family (2 adults and up to 3 children)||€ 35.00|
|Small Family (1 adult and up to 3 children)||€ 25.00|
Students 18+, disabled, senior citizens (from 60 onwards). Valid identity card required.
Tours & Experiences (per adult):
|Overview Tour (1hr)||€ 6.00|
|Tour & Car Tower*||€ 15.00|
|VW Factory Tour||€ 10.00|
|Touareg and Amarok all-terrain track training||€ 39.00|
|Tiguan, Kodiaq and friends all-terrain track experience||€ 29.00|
|Driver Safety Training||From € 29.00|