Most automotive factories pride themselves on how quickly they can stamp out new cars. Last year, Volkswagen’s massive plant in Wolfsburg, Germany—the largest in the world—stamped out about 3,500 Golfs and Tiguans a day. That’s about two cars a minute, using robots, perpetual shift changes, and precisely choreographed, just-in-time parts delivery strategies from a global network of suppliers.Five hundred miles west of Wolfsburg, Volkswagen’s UK-based, upscale cousin prefers slow cooker to cookie cutter. Bentley’s factory in Crewe, near Manchester, rolls out a relatively paltry 26 Continental GT coupes and Flying Spur sedans, 31 Bentayga SUVs , and five flagship Mulsannes each day. The factory is just as clean and efficient as any other, but it’s geared for the kind of carmaker that sends its workers into the world to find just the right cows for its leather interiors.Though the Crewe factory employs just one robot —a rather disappointing rig that applies adhesive to windshields—it has automated sleds shuffling assemblies down the line, high-tech analytical gear for developing new materials, and several computerized leather cutters that map out all the bits and pieces for seats, steering wheels, and door panels that they can extract from a single hide, leaving just wispy remnants to go into the recycling.
The real clue to the 4,000-employee factory’s organizational gestalt, however, can be gleaned from the fact that while the main assembly line runs just eight hours a day—a single shift—the leather and wood production facilities operate around the clock. It seems that manufacturing the softer bits, the ones that come into direct contact with the occupants, takes a lot more time and effort, as well as a more hands-on approach, than all the metal, composites, and wiring that make up the rest of the car. Click through the gallery above for a closer look.
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