How important are factory tours for most automotive consumers?
Does the notion of “craftsmanship” matter to auto buyers any longer?
- Do consumers appreciate craftsmanship?
- Can an all-robotic car manufacturer boast about craftsmanship?
- How important are factory tours for consumers?
In my opinion . . .”I was reading about Audi’s Factory yesterday and was startled by the sophistication and number of robots that play a role in the construction process. There are still humans that monitor the robots and handle some of the more unpredictable elements of construction, but it seems like only a matter of time before robots no longer need human supervision.
All automotive buyers, be it enthusiasts or general consumers, expect a certain level of craftsmanship—or put another way, build quality—in whatever it is they are buying because it translates into reliability and safety. I would assume they don’t care how their new acquisition is designed and assembled as long as it’s affordable and reliable.
It’s easy to consider most of today’s cars as being appliances. In other words, something you can purchase sight unseen like a toaster or large screen TV. But before the integration of computers and robotics, just about everything automotive had a much larger level of hand assembly and lower build consistency. For instance, a few decades ago, when you bought a new car in the US, you went through the dealership’s lot and “kicked the tires”—meaning you looked for the pick of the littler — that one new car in the bunch lot that seemed to have the best build quality and fit and finish. Back then you had to because reliability was much worse and cars were worn out before they hit the 100K mile mark. Today’s average car last much, much longer. This is because everything is designed on a computer so the tolerances, manufacturing, paint and assembly are far more precise and consistent. No longer did you have to avoid the cars built on Monday mornings or Friday afternoons.
But let’s never confuse the term hand assembly and craftsmanship. I would use the term “craftsman” to mean things still done by hand, by highly trained, experienced and passionate people dedicated to the quality of their craft. Although CAD designers and software engineers work with their hands technically, I am not considering them in context of this topic.
However, there still is a good level of hands-on craftsmanship with today’s high-end marques—they still advertise pride of workmanship in their product when it comes to engine assembly and interior finish. Older, collectible sports cars used to be built by craftsmen to a large extent, and that sounds romantic and old-world, but it often also meant each car had its own soul and personality—sometimes good, and sometimes bad. That’s rarely the case any longer.
Now if I am going to anthropomorphize certain cars, the question begs: can a modestly-priced car that has been built primarily by robots have a soul, or does a car only get one when it’s had many craftsmen (and crafts women) add their loving touch along the assembly process?
Image credit: Audi Mediaservices