I took a tour of the Porsche Factory Thirty years ago. I was surprised to see 911 bodies assembled alongside the 928. The line had been shut down and Klaus was sitting on the sidelines drinking ein Bier. I returned this summer and the only similarity is the location of Werke 1 and Werke II in Zuffenhausen on the outskirts of Stuttgart. Situated across from the Porsche Museum and the Porsche Zentrum dealership is the entrance to the Factory Tour. A Comprehensive guided tour is offered in English at 2 pm for eight folks. Wear comfortable shoes because it is fast paced tour led by a sharp Italian Suited leader who races us from Department to Department. Photos may be taken in the museum but not in the factory. Cell phones must be checked with the Guide.
At the outset we pass the original Red Brick Reutter Carossrerie Plant where the legendary 356 was assembled in 1959. Today the $845,000 hybrid 918 Supercar is being pushed by hand down the line. 918 cars begin official assembly on 09-18-2013 at 9:18 am. “Sorry, that area is off limits for us”. We travel to the main assembly hall where painted bodies rest on elevated platforms having crossed a bridge from Werke I where the 911 was just painted, “Ve cannot travel to dat area as Ve are too dirty”. The automated platforms move the cars through the assembly area. A laser robot eerily scans the windshield frame to determine exact location for the subsequent gluing and robot arm’s automated placement of the windshield. It is a remarkable dance and of course saves time and time is money. The bare bodies are fascinating as it reveals that not one drop of paint is wasted. If it can’t be seen on the assembled car, it is not painted in body color. Every 911 variation and Boxster car shares the same line. Caymans are assembled in the former Karmann plant in Osnabruck up north. GT3 cars follow the base Boxster on the platforms as they move forward at a modest pace. Each car is already sold. Not one Porsche built has not spoken for. An extraordinary accomplishment for the most profitable car company in the world. Each car has a unique wiring harness. The harness is specific to the exact options of the car. Thus, if the car does not have heated seats, the loom will not have that power thread. This saves money our intrepid guide informs us.
Automated robots follow buried guides throughout the plant. A cart of divided predetermined dashboard components arrive at an assembly station. Each part is already chosen and available. There is no opportunity for error. It is a bar coded fait au accompli. Ergonomics are central to the Porsche worker mission. There is no lifting of any component. All assembly tools are electric to minimize vibration compared to air driven tools. The tour guides us to the leather shop with great pride. “After all a driver views the dashboard more than any other part, it must be perfect”. Each selected leather hide arrives and is cut for the car by a high pressure water driven shear. The hide is thinner than any other manufacturer in order to avoid the prospect of air bubbles in the dash. The hide is heat bonded to the dash assembly in a combined manual and automated process. Deviated stitch color is accomplished by skilled sewers who work by hand in an adjacent area. Yellow and Red spools of specified thread abound. “We use the finest hides and the rest we sell to Mercedes”. Seats are supplied by a vendor.
Engine Assembly is a fascinating dance of automation of skilled assembly. Workers choose components from lit drawers on long rows of parts. The computer is never wrong and only lit parts are selected from the bin by the engine assembler. Over thirty variations of Porsche engines are put together in same the assembly hall that is near silent. All engines are assembled in Zuffenhausen because an engine is the heart of the car. Thus, Panamera engines begin here and are shipped to Leipzig. The 911 engine is completed and leak tested with air pressure and then run to 10,000 r.p.m. on an electric jig. There is no clatter and no exhaust. I remark how clean the facility is and Mr. Accardi responds, “Vhy vould it be dirty?” We then race on to the logistic facility. Porsche is proud of the fact that very few components are made by Porsche. The stacks of Hitachi electric components spend very little time in this room. Porsche has elevated just in time delivery to an art form. Complete engines do not spend one entire day (.08 days) in this facility as they are used immediately. It is a far cry from my last visit where we stepped over pallets and boxes stacked everywhere. QR codes join Bar codes in a relentless march for perfection. A computer screen overhead demonstrates the current production pace of 218 engines and the eventual goal of that day. It goes without saying that production pace is faster than production requirements. The engine is the component that takes almost as long to assemble as the entire car.
The factory tour is a fascinating day for any gearhead and is free. No question is unanswered. Advance arrangements are a must. There is no information on the tour on the Porsche website and a Google search will leave you clueless. You must register via e-mail at hope for a reply. Handicapped individuals are not permitted to join. You must be 16. I am glad I wore my Adidas Porsche Design track shoes because it is a fast paced march. The Porsche Museum is closed on Monday and is currently featuring the 50 year anniversary of the 911 until the end of September. The Dealer across the street, Porsche Zentrum features a nice gift shop as does the Museum. Hold onto to your wallet as my Steve McQueen T shirt cost 54 Euros and jackets easily exceed a thousand Euros.The gift shop is nothing compared to the jaw dropping Euro priced cars on display.
I had a wonderful time enhanced by my Avis Rent a Car, a Schwarz Basalt Carrera S 911 Cabriolet with PDK transmission and essential Navigation onboard. Some vendors attempt to charge as much as 600 Euros a day to Porsche addicted U.S. Drivers. I made direct arrangements with Avis of Germany which has nothing to do with the out sourced “customer service” Avis at home. I had ordered a base Boxster and when I arrived the agent looked at her shoes and sheepishly advised that my car was not available. Claudia asked if a new 911 Carrera S cabriolet would be “acceptable”, I had to suffer through my regret and state that it would have to do. The Schwarz Basalt Cab was perfect. If there was ever doubt that a seven speed computer transmission is superior to a manual shifter, those concerns have been put to rest on the Autobahn. The unlimited speed that the Autobahn offers is difficult to accomplish in the outskirts of Stuttgart. The left lane discipline of the past is marred by VW “UP” drivers passing Romanian Diesel trucks. Nevertheless, German drivers are excellent for the most part and will part the waters for an approaching 911. All German cars feature start stop technology which is disconcerting at the start. The car stops at a light and jumps to life at the pressure of the pedal. There is nothing like a sudden down shift and hearing the wail of the Boxer motor wailing through the cabin on the autobahn. 150 kph is like standing still. Once you hit 240, you must be on your game. It is taxing to drive at speed for any distance. It renews one’s respect for endurance racers. I hope every PCA member has a chance to see where their vehicle was born. A $141,600 car for less than 200 Euros is a bargain indeed. A final word of caution; do not leave the agency with the “Navi” auf Deutsch. The settings are incomprehensible to mere mortals and required a visit to the Workshop to switch to English. In contrast, the motor sound switch was easy: LOUD!
Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche Aktiengesellschaft
Abteilung GOM 2
D – 70435 Stuttgart
Tel.: 49 (0)711 / 911 – 25384
Fax: 49 (0)711 / 911 – 25111
By car from the autobahn
• Autobahn A 81
• Exit Zuffenhausen
• Highway B10
• Exit Korntal/Zuffenhausen
• At the round-about towards Otto-Dürr-Straße (right)
• After 200 m bus parking lot (right)
• do not park at the Porsche Dealer!
By car from Stuttgart-Center
• Via Heilbronnerstrasse (B27/B10)
• Towards Zuffenhausen
• At the round-about towards Otto-Dürr-Straße (left)
• After 200 m bus parking lot (right)
• Please do not park at the Porsche Dealer!
• Line S6 towards Weil der Stadt or Leonberg
• Stop Neuwirtshaus