Over five million cars produced bearing the brand names of Audi, NSU and Porsche are evidence of the motor manufacturing tradition, stretching back over many years, of Audi's Neckarsulm plant.
"The Neckarsulm plant was a site of innovation in the last century, and has gained the reputation as a car plant with one of the richest traditions in the world," says Audi's Director of Production, Dr Jochem Heizmann. The plant has gained worldwide recognition with technical developments such as the first NSU with bodywork made completely of aluminium (1913), the streamlined, record-breaking vehicles of 1956, the NSU Wankel engine (1957), the TDI engines (1989) and the motor-racing engines developed at the plant. Since the establishment of the aluminium centre and the start of production of lightweight, aluminium bodies in 1995, the Audi plant has today achieved a unique level of competence at the plant. Over 200,000 vehicles have been produced with aluminium bodywork since 1995, using Audi's space-frame technology (Audi A2 and A8).
In 1905 the first cars manufactured in Neckarsulm, under licence to the Belgian Pipe company, left the plant. At the same time the engineers at NSU were working on bringing their own ideas to fruition, and were building a three-wheeler. Its motorcycle engine, producing over three and a half horsepower, was mounted over the front wheel, and transmitted its power by means of a chain. This model was called the "Sulmobil".
In 1906 a new epoch in the history of the plant began with the construction of the "Original Neckarsulm Motorcar". The first twenty motorcars were assembled in the former knitting machine factory, alongside bicycles and motorcycles. Famous cars such as the first prototype for the VW Beetle, the NSU Prinz, the NSU/Wankel Spider, the NSU TT, the NSU Ro 80, the Audi 100, the Audi 200 and the Audi Cabriolet left the lines at this production plant over the next 96 years. "We are well aware of our history and are proud of the company's long tradition at the site," explained plant manager Otto Lindner.
The changing fortunes of the plant are linked with growth: The annual production of vehicles has been increasing continuously since 1906. 900 cars were produced in the year 1914. For commercial reasons, car production had to cease from 1929 to 1956. The manufacture of cars started up again in 1958 with the arrival of the "Prinz".
In the years of the Economic Miracle (the "Wirtschaftswunder"), production rose by leaps and bounds from 13,000 (in 1958) to 145,000 vehicles in 1969. From 1957 onwards a total of 1.2 million NSU vehicles were produced. In March 1977 the last NSU Ro 80 left the production lines in Neckarsulm - bringing to an end the line of models bearing the famous name of NSU.
After the merger to form Audi NSU Auto Union AG (1969), in 1970 the first Audi 100 was rolling off the line. This model and its current successor, the Audi A6, have developed to become the most important breadwinner of the plant to date. During the period between 1976 and 1991 over 313,000 vehicles were produced for Porsche under a contracting-out agreement, to safeguard jobs. These were the 924 and 944 models.
In 1996, with the Audi A6, the Audi A8 (launched in 1994) and the assembly of the Audi Cabriolet, three independent model series were produced at the plant for the first time. In 2001 the daily production figures crossed the threshold of 1,000 vehicles per day for the first time. The Audi A2, A6, allroad quattro and A8 model series are currently being built at the Neckarsulm plant. In addition, there are cars from quattro GmbH, personalised to meet individual customers' requirements, as well its own product, the Audi RS6. Annual production at the plant amounts to around 250,000 vehicles.
"With its pioneering spirit and high levels of commitment, the workforce at Neckarsulm has again and again shown what it is capable of, and created something new. Even during difficult times it has always supported the plant to maintain production and jobs. The employees have played their part in making Audi Neckarsulm what it is today, an innovative and internationally competitive car plant, and as the largest employer in the region it also has a high level of social responsibility," says Norbert Rank, Chairman of the Works Council.
Audi is an international developer and manufacturer of high-quality cars. In 2001 the company sold more than 726,000 Audi models. The revenue of the Audi Group totalled around EUR 22 billion. The Audi Group has more than 50,000 employees, around 13,600 of whom work at the Neckarsulm plant.