Reports are beginning to emerge which piece together the puzzle over the future of Forest, officially known as Audi Brussels. The plant, which once made the VW Polo, is now the base for all production of the Audi A1 and S1. Will the next generation cars also be made there?
The Belgian daily De Morgen published a story earlier on 14 October claiming that Forest will be the plant to build the Q6 e-tron, the electric version of an additional crossover for the Audi range. The Volkswagen division issued a release to the media in March stating that it was developing a plug-in ‘sports activity vehicle’. Audi also noted that the model, to be sized between the new Q7 and the next Q5, would be on sale in early 2018. We saw a prototype at last month’s Frankfurt IAA, though the Q6 badge was missing, the company instead choosing to call it the e-tron quattro concept.
Many claim this will be Audi’s rival for the Tesla Model X but will it, when the latter is much bigger and costs in excess of US$100,000? No, this model should compete with the future Model Y, the SUV version of the D segment Model 3.
The e-tron quattro concept’s headline grabbing fact was its claimed range of 500 kilometres (310 miles) between recharges. It’s pretty much a given that the Q6 will be constructed from a special matrix of lightweight materials, which probably means a big spend will have to take place at Forest, a plant which presently manufactures steel chassis small cars.
Audi is collaborating with LG Chem and Samsung SDI to develop a battery pack capable of matching the prototype’s alleged range, while the production model will in all likelihood have to be a four-seater just as the concept was. Torque to both axles will be generated by three electric motors. There should also be combustion engined variants of the Q6 (project code: AU519), and these will likely come first – they should start rolling out of Forest during the second half of 2017 after the wind-down of A1 and S1 production.
So much for the future vehicle itself and where it’s likely to be manufactured – where will production of the future AU220 series A1 and S1 take place? Audi Brussels has built the AU210 A1 and its derivatives (Sportback, S1) since May 2010, so a replacement series is already in the planning stages. The likely launch date would be early to mid 2017 and the new generation model should be manufactured by Seat at its Martorell base near Barcelona. Does SEAT have the capacity there? Yes it could be squeezed in, leaving Forest’s 100,000+ annual capacity to be switched over to production of modular longitudinal platform (MLB Evo) vehicles.
The next A1, S1, A1 Sportback and S1 Sportback will be based upon MQB Zero, as will the fifth generation SEAT Ibiza. This is due to appear in 2017 – the current model has had its lifecycle extended with another facelift so as to sync it with other future MQB Zero models. These include the next Volkswagen Polo plus the T-Cross, the successors for the Skoda Rapid & Toledo, and the Audi Q2 – the current Skoda Fabia, which was the first vehicle for Zero, has been available since 2014.
It seem strange to take the A1 out of Forest and send it south to Martorell but this is all about minimising spending and future-proofing plants. MLB Evo is a new architecture, and so too is MQB Zero. Fitting out Forest to build high-margin SUVs makes a lot more sense than spending big on low-margin small cars. In that context, manufacturing the next A1 in Spain alongside other Zero architecture SEAT models is an intelligent move. Q6 volumes alone are unlikely to push Forest to the limits of its capacity so having the ability to run other yet to be seen MLB Evo models down its production line is Audi’s other piece of inspired thinking.