I have to admit, I wasn't sure how to react to the invite to visit the VW Eos manufacturing facility - it's another stupid car factory, except this one was near beautiful Lisbon, Portugal. "Oh, go on then!"
As it turns out, I'm glad we went. The factory is more like a dental surgery - very clean and white. We couldn't even wear jeans in case the rivets scratched the new bodywork. This is car manufacturing in the 21st century.
The Eos has been a long time coming. We saw the concept, learned about its five-piece metal folding roof, and have waited an eternity for it to arrive. Now that its here, the proud parents wanted to show off their new baby.
AutoeuropaThe Eos is born at VW's Autoeuropa plant in Palmela, Portugal. It covers 21.5 million sqft or about 215000 football fields, with over half dedicated to car production. The factory opened in 1995 as a joint venture between VW and Ford to build a shared MPV platform. By '99 VW assumed full ownership and began production of the Eos in '05. We also learnt the new Scirocco will be built here in '06 for '07 delivery, although there's no word on whether it's coming to the USA.
The factory employs 2790 people, with a further 6100 employed by the suppliers that encircle the plant. Companies like Webasto (roof), SAS (dash), SPPM and Peguform (front end), Continental (wheels) and PPG (paint) are all located on the same complex to ensure rapid delivery of parts.
Although the Eos is just arriving in the USA, Autoeuropa built almost 14000 in the first half of the year for Europe.
We were fortunate to see the entire assembly process (with the exception of the paint shop), starting from rolls of steel and ending with final inspection of the finished car.
The steel is unrolled and cut into sheets that are passed to the 51 new die sets that were needed for Eos production. The Eos has its own production line alongside the older Sharan MPV line and 114 robots are heavily involved in the first stages. In fact, 52% of the production process is automated, accounting for most of the 4613 welding points, 224 stud welds and 190" of laser welds that go into each car.
We witnessed each panel being stamped and then welded together to produce the bodyshell, even seeing the different trunk floors for European and US cars, with ours requiring space for a full-size spare wheel.
The shells then go through the paint shop, which is able to select any of the 13 exterior colors for an individual car - these aren't painted in batches, and you can order custom colors on request in Europe.
The painted bodies emerge out the other side onto a more conventional assembly line with 63 overhead conveyors. Here it's united with the dashboard - supplied from the SAS factory as a complete assembly and simply plugged into the car. Then it meets up with the drivetrain. This again is completely built - with engine, gearbox, brakes and suspension - on a separate conveyor. The body is lowered onto it and everything is bolted together.
After getting their wheels and trim pieces, the cars are ready for the roof. Again, Webasto supplies a complete, painted unit. It's assembled from five main sections, has eight separate motors and requires eight bolts to attach it. A special rig clamps around the roof and maneuvers it into the precise position, so that the workers only need gun the bolts tight.
After another short journey, the cars arrive at an inspection and testing area before being loaded onto ships and taken to Germany for distribution around the world.
Despite the car's unique appearance, only 20% of its content is new. The remainder includes the Passat rear axle, and the Golf front end and electronics. However, the chassis is new to support the roof.
What's incredible about Autoeuropa is that everything arrives at the right place at the right time and to the right spec. We saw Japanese and American cars traveling the line together. These have the steering wheel on different sides, so required different dash assemblies, the trunk had different plate recesses, the floorpan would be different, as well as the electronics, etc. And each car was a different color, with different trim, wheels, etc. Each car is pre-ordered and everything comes together to build the correct specification at exactly the right time. The days of building thousands of identical cars are far behind us. Autoeuropa is at the cutting edge of automobile manufacture.
TuningJE Design (see p78) offers a new front spoiler with two-piece carbon splitter, skirts with air scoops and a rear apron with an optional carbon-look diffuser for use with its four-tailpipe exhaust. There's also a wing for the trunk. There are 17, 18 or 19x8" wheels on offer for up to a 235/35-19 tire. The company can also lower the Eos about 1" and install a four-piston front brake kit. A chip for the 2.0T boosts power to 244hp.
Eibach has its Pro-Kit or Sportline springs, lowering the car up to 2" - something Eos certainly needs. There's also Pro-Spacers to push the stock wheels out to the corners and a sway bar kit to reduce roll.
KW is developing a full range of suspension for the Eos, including springs, dampers and coilovers. Right now it has the Variant 1 coilovers, allowing the car to be lowered between 1 and 2.5", depending on your preference.
Eos 2.0TNamed after the Greek goddess of the dawn, the turbo version arrived in the USA in September, with the 3.2 VR6 following about now. With a starting price of $27990 for the 2.0T ($36850 for the 3.2), the big attraction of the Eos is its versatility. It's a nimble coupe in the winter, has a big sunroof in the spring and is a full convertible in the summer.
Throwing it around some of Portugal's more challenging roads, and down what must be the worst paved road we've ever encountered, the shell dealt with the imperfections well. Roof up, this is a sturdy little car. We didn't really try it roof down: The car was red, there were two guys in it... what can I say?
When we put the roof down momentarily, with its one-touch, 25sec operation, the cabin remained quiet thanks to a wind guard. And the trunk retains 6.6cuft of luggage space in this configuration.
Roof up or down, Eos 2.0T claims 50/50 weight distribution; the VR6 only gets DSG and will have more weight in the front. With the Passat's independent rear suspension, the handling is tight yet fluid. In fact, it has a slight tendency to lift off oversteer for entertainment.
The electro-mechanical steering is carried over from the GTI, as is the 2.0T and much of the dash. However, the doors and seats are new.
There's a long list of safety features, including an automatic rollover system, airbags, side beams, belt tensioners, etc.
Claimed performance is 6.4sec 0-60, 14.8sec quarter and 130mph top speed. Fuel economy is 23mpg average.
The only disappointing news - open the top continuously more than eight times showing off to your friends, and the hydraulics will overheat, shutting down to protect itself. And you can't open the roof over 2mph. Oh well, they must be expecting adults to buy Eos.