Blog: Simon WarburtonMind the gap -in Austria

Simon Warburton | 13 March 2012

"Eight minutes to land" intoned Herr Kapitan as we approached Vienna airport - perhaps only a Swiss airline could be that precise - it's normally a ten-minute announcement.

Just like my local cab firm, who, whatever the time you call, says they'll "be there in ten minutes, even if it's actually five or fifteen.

I'm in Vienna or just outside, it to interview Magna International Europe and Magna Steyr Group president Guenther Apfalter, days after he returned from the Geneva show where the company exhibited its 'three-in-one' Mila Coupic concept, which according to the press release is a "dynamic SUV coupé, which can be transformed into a sporty pick-up or an open-air convertible."

All well and good, but I'm here to talk to the European boss and also visit his vast and sprawling factory - several huge plants in one - in Graz some 180km to the South West of Magna's Vienna HQ.

The supplier and RCZ manufacturer kindly gave me a driver for the day and we just about managed to converse even through my pigeon German and his basic English on the two-hour trip - mainly about speed traps. He even impressively managed to spot a police car in a field of all places next to the motorway - armed with radar.

The main body of the Graz visit was to look at Magna Steyr's production line of the Peugeot RCZ that started in 2010 and is the first complete vehicle programme PSA has given to the supplier and vehicle maker.

The sports coupé line began with a run of 21,000 units per year, but has seen that figure under threat as dire economic conditions, particularly in the southern European countries of Spain, Italy and Portugal have eroded consumer confidence.

But the company has high hopes once confidence returns, although predicting that is nigh-on impossible. After seeing the body-in-white section, I was taken to the mightily impressive paint shop - a first for me to see close up the sort of 'sheep dipping' all cars undergo as well as the customised roof spraying so beloved of Mini owners.

Those Mini Countrymen are assembled for BMW of course while the paint shop manager also gazed longingly at the - very few - Aston Martins also being carefully painted - around three to four a day.

Magna saved a head turner for me to last - one of its test drivers threw us round the company track - a succession of obstacles, rally simulation, lakes and 60% inclines - as well as similar drops the other side.

Back to where I was billeted last night - Bad Voslau - a spa town around one hour south of Vienna and in a hotel first opened by the current manager's great-grandmother in 1896.

I felt as if I was the only guest, a sort of Mrs Rochester wandering around silent corridors and with a dining room framed with dozens of deer horns - this is clearly hunting country.

I'm back at the airport now on the first leg of my trek across MittelEuropa home - I caught an Austrian train to get here - double-decker, cheap and on-time - UK take note.

By the way, even Austrians say "mind the gap" on leaving the train - I speak a bit of French and have never, ever worked out how to say it...


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