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Audi factory in Brussels faces uncertain future

08:35 07/02/2024

The Audi factory in the Brussels neighbourhood of Forest faces an uncertain future, as the car manufacturer struggles with overcapacity.

German trade magazine Automobilwoche published a report on the car manufacturer’s strategy earlier this week, Bruzz reports, revealing that Audi plans to rearrange its plants worldwide with the help of parent group Volkswagen.

One European plant would become redundant, the report indicates, and Audi Brussels seems to be the likely candidate.

With a production of 53,555 electric cars last year, Audi Brussels is a relatively small plant that also builds for only one VW Group brand, making it easier to scrap.

“If Brussels is not allocated an alternative model in the ongoing factory network planning, it could be threatening for the plant,” the trade magazine reported. “Desperate efforts are being made internally to safeguard the future of the site.”

Audi Brussels, which was the brand's first factory to specialise in electric cars, is currently building the Q8 e-tron. But that model is entering the last two to three years of its life cycle and Audi management has not yet assigned a successor to the Forest factory.

Rumours have been circulating for several months that Audi would assign the Q8's successor to a plant in Mexico, which Automobilwoche's reporting now seems to confirm, leaving a question as to which model the Forest factory will build from 2027 onwards.

“At Audi in Germany, they themselves do not really know what model could be produced here in the future, let alone what the future of this factory is,” union representative Jan Baetens told Bruzz.

“We want to know that future as soon as possible. Preferably we need to know which new model, because we need two years to convert the plant to that new model. We are not going to think in disaster scenarios yet, but we have to stay alert.”

Audi Brussels had hoped to be the complementary factory for the Q4 model, which is mainly built in Zwickau, Germany. However, demand for that model also seems disappointing, meaning Zwickau can meet production goals on its own for now.

Equally concerning to the future of the Brussels factory is its present: the production line is shut down for the next two weeks due to technical unemployment – a parts problem, according to management. But unions suspect that waning demand for the Q8 also has something to do with it.

The Brussels factory employs about 3,000 permanent workers and 500 temps, with roughly 10% of staff being residents of the capital, according to Brussels MP Christophe De Beukelaer (Les Engagés).

While management has guaranteed job security for 2024, unions fear this will not be the case in the event of a large-scale reshuffle.

There are indications that lower demand for electric cars than anticipated is a wider problem among European carmakers, not just Audi, threatening overcapacity at factories.

“The federal government will no doubt do everything possible to avoid a disaster scenario,” automotive expert Tony Verhelle told Bruzz in regards to the potential closure of the Forest factory.

“After all, the fallout from a complete closure would be enormous, especially with elections approaching. If Audi or parent group Volkswagen can find a new model or supply project for the plant, then the future of the site will be safeguarded for another five years or so.”

A spokesman for Audi's Brussels plant said he did not wish to respond to rumours.

Photo: Dirk Waem/Belga

Written by Helen Lyons