A grand opening on September 19 of the Volkswagen Group of America’s new corporate headquarters in Herndon, Virginia was a signal in ways literal and figurative that the German corporation’s American business is on the move. “America is the most demanding car market, stated Volkswagen Group Chairman of the Board of Management Dr. Martin Winterkorn. “To take a line from Frank Sinatra,” he continued, “If we can make it (in the USA), we can make it anywhere,” and that’s just what he and his American team led by Stefan Jacoby plan on doing.
First come the facilities. This new charcoal-toned high rise overlooking Virginia’s Dulles Toll Road will play home to Audi of America and Volkswagen of America, while sister brands Bentley and Lamborghini have each opened new digs in Boston and Los Angeles respectively. Following these moves, an all-new domestic car manufacturing facility that will build new American market Volkswagens and likely the next-generation Audi A3 for the Americas is also in the works.
These moves are not just a big deal for the Volkswagen Group. Considering the jobs and industry being brought to both Virginia and Tennessee and the close proximity to the governing bodies in Washington, D.C. and Richmond, the presence of Republican Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander or the Democratic Governor of Virginia Tim Kaine were welcomed and showed how important the Volkswagen Group is to its new home towns.
Governor Kaine even took part in the presentation, seated alongside Dr. Winterkorn and Mr. Jacoby on stage. Kaine eventually took the podium, expressed his own appreciation, and even relayed the story of his visit with Mr. Jacoby to Virginia’s VIR race track for Volkswagen’s Jetta TDI Cup racing event at the venue. As Kaine relayed, when Jacoby offered a ride in one of the cars and he saw just two seats… not enough for a member of his security and the pair, Kaine offered to drive. While that didn’t particularly please his security detail, Kaine just shrugged and commented to the crowd, “such is a benefit of being governor.”
During the presentation, Mr. Jacoby also took the time to announce a philanthropic effort being put forth by the Volkswagen Group of America to support education in the fields of automotive technology and automotive engineering in local Virginia and D.C. educational institutions. This “Partners in Education” program marks a $2.1 million education program that will encompass programs and scholarships and benefit the Fairfax County Public Schools, Northern Virginia Community College, the Excel Institute, George Mason University, Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia.
Though the Volkswagen Group’s own Dr. Ferdinand Piech was also on the billing in the weeks prior to the opening, recent no-shows by Piech during corporate meetings surrounding a further Porsche buyout resulted in a similar absence in Virginia.
That said, Audi boss Rupert Stadler was also in the audience and joined his German colleagues and the Americans, represented by Jacoby and Audi’s Johan de Nysschen, on stage for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Following the cutting, visitors were invited to see more of the grounds and interior of the new headquarters.
In addition to the selection of new Volkswagen and Audi models that sat in a semi-circle on display behind the presentation, other cars from the company’s present and past were also on display nearby. An Audi R10 TDI prototype from the American Le Mans Series and a Jetta TDI Cup racecar emphasized the importance of motorsport to the group. Several yards away on the Volkswagen Group campus, the company’s heritage was also exemplified by a range of cars from the two marques’ domestic collections. For Volkswagen, this included the awesome GTI W12-650 design study, a vintage “Max” Beetle, a Karmann Ghia Convertible, Scirocco I and a Telefunken Type I panel van. Vintage Audis included a pristine red Sport quattro, an S4 Competition racecar from the Speed World Challenge and an RS 6 racecar from the same series.
Inside, construction of showrooms for both Volkswagen and Audi has now been completed. The new Routan minivan joined other current models on the floor of the Volkswagen side – a bright white room decorated with owner photographs and even a display case showcasing the brand’s latest sponsorship of the game of soccer – the local DC United soccer team. Past a Bugatti Veyron on display in the entranceway was Audi’s also newly-opened showroom with a range of cars and several with special Audi Exclusive equipment. A new tie-in with Oakley sunglasses in the form Audi-branded Oakley Whisker sunglasses were also spotted in a display case.
Venturing up to the sixth floor – the main floor for the Volkswagen brand, visitors are greeted by a ’64 “Max” beetle sitting next to a microphone and a gratuitous guest chair. There’s an air of Merv Griffin’s set in Kramer’s apartment to it all, though you just can’t resist plopping down in the lounger for a goofy photo on a buddy’s mobile phone camera.
A small selection of glass offices and conference rooms sit at the borders of an otherwise wide-open, bright and airy sea of cubicles. What employees might give up in overall privacy, they gain in ambience and comfort. Herndon’s sparkling new headquarters is a definite step up from the old Auburn Hills facility.
As in Auburn Hills, Audi finds itself ironically on floor #4. Step off the elevator and you’re greeted by a 2000 vintage Audi R8 racecar with 24 Hours of Le Mans livery for the driver team of Abt, Alboreto and Capello. Just past this is the glass-enclosed office space of Audi of America boss Johan de Nysschen. Although in different colors, textures and materials, the cubicle-focused layout with further glass conference rooms and offices for senior staff continues on the Audi level. Kitchens can be found on the ends of the floors, with sleek cabinetry and stainless appliances. As with Volkswagen, Audi’s Herndon offices are much more grand in appearance than the aged and cramped feeling facility in Auburn Hills. Even better, there’s a Starbucks just a short walk down newly-named Ferdinand Porsche Drive if they need a break.
If there’s one downside to the new Herndon office building, it is that there are no garage work areas for techs and product planners to bring cars inside. Short of the showrooms well exposed by their panel glass, there’s no place to keep vehicles other than the corporate parking garage next door. For these and other purposes, the Volkswagen Group has kept the bulk of its 3800 Hamlin Road facility in Auburn Hills, MI for now as a tech center and offices for regional staff.
Following the opening, the Volkswagen Group continued the day of events with a focus on their employees. During the lunch hour, staff took part in a barbecue on the new grounds where the displays of cars seen earlier were joined by several additional displays for Volkswagen accessories and an autograph session starring Volkswagen TDI Cup racer Michael DeNino and members of the U.S. Open Cup Championship soccer team the DC United.
After lunch hour it was back to work. The German executives were likely back on the corporate jet and headed for Germany, while Kaine and Alexander were back to their respective capitols. And for the employees, it was back to work at one of the hottest companies in the super trendy Dulles Corridor. If they are to hit Dr. Winterkorn’s goal of tripling their sales to 1 million by 2018, there’s not much time for dallying over barbecue fare on their new Herndon front lawn, even on such a beautiful September afternoon.
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