Audi | BMW | Ford | Mercedes-Benz | Opel | Porsche | Volkswagen
Seven major automakers manufacture automobiles and trucks in Germany. The automobile is a German invention, and the auto industry in Germany is one of the country’s largest employers, with a labor force of over 747,000. Germany is among the world’s top four car producers.
Below you’ll find our guide to automobile factory tours in Germany and the option of buying a German car in the United States and taking delivery at the factory in Germany (European delivery).
All the German automotive brands offer factory tours, in some cases combined with optional auto museum tours. German car buyers also like to pick up their new Audis, BMWs, Mercedes, Porsches, and Volkswagens directly at the factory. (See How to Buy or Lease a Car in Germany for more.) Ford and Opel are the only automakers in Germany that do not allow buyers to take delivery of their new vehicle at the factory, but they do offer factory tours.
You may not think of Ford as a “German” auto company, but the American Henry Ford opened his first auto plant in Germany in 1912. Some Germans don’t even realize that Ford (pronounced “fort” in German) is not a German company. The American car giant General Motors planted its flag in Germany a bit later, when it purchased an 80 percent interest in Adam Opel AG in 1929. Today Opel is still a division of General Motors.
The South Korean automaker Kia has its European design center in Frankfurt, but its only European auto factory is located in Žilina, Slovakia. That plant supplies almost 60 percent of Kia’s European demand. The facility produces three vehicles for the European market, with brands that few Americans would recognize: the cee’d model family (hatchback and Sportswagon, as well as the pro_cee’d coupe), the European bestselling Sportage crossover, and Venga compact MPV.
European Delivery for US Customers
Factory delivery is a popular option for German car buyers. Four German automakers – Audi, BMW, Mercedes, and Porsche – also offer their US customers the option of picking up their new car in Germany and combining that with a European trip. All but Porsche offer a 5 to 7 percent discount on the vehicle, combined with free or discounted air fares. Some also offer additional perks such as free meals, museum entrance, and a factory tour. Volkswagen, alone among German car producers, does not offer European delivery for its US customers. (Opel sells its cars in the US through its owner, General Motors. The Swedish carmaker Volvo also offers European delivery in Sweden for US customers.)
Buyers order their new car – with the options they want – through a US dealer, who also helps arrange for delivery in Germany. The US customer then travels to Germany and takes delivery of the new car at the Audi, BMW, Mercedes, or Porsche factory-delivery center. Since EU/German car specs differ from those for the USA, the car for an American buyer will be a US-spec vehicle. The automaker offers special temporary insurance and licensing for Europe. After driving around Germany and Europe, the US customer drops off the car for shipment back to the States. BMW offers 12 shipping drop-off locations across Europe. You and your car are reunited at your local dealership six to ten weeks later. – For those German brands that offer it, we list a web link under that brand in the list below.
Below, in alphabetical order, you’ll find information about each German car brand’s factory and museum tours. Factory tours require advance reservations! Unlike a museum tour, you can’t just walk up and take a factory tour. Most factory tours forbid photography, but check to be sure. To book a factory tour, see the contact info for each carmaker below.
Audi has its headquarters in Ingolstadt, a scenic university town of about 130,000 located on the Danube River in Bavaria, between Munich to the south and Nuremberg to the north. The Audi predecessor, Auto Union first arrived in the city in 1945 – after its original factories in Chemnitz and Zwickau had been destroyed in the war, and were then seized by the Russians in Soviet controlled East Germany. Besides Audi’s own museums, you also can visit the August Horch Museum in Zwickau, devoted to Audi’s founder, and located in the former Auto Union and Trabant factory (www.horch-museum.de in English).
Today Audi, a division of Volkswagen, has two factories in Germany, both of which offer tours. The main Audi car museum (Audi museum mobile) is located in Ingolstadt next to the headquarters building and the Audi Forum. A smaller car exhibition can be seen in Neckarsulm.
Audi Headquarters in Germany: Ingolstadt
Audi Factories: Ingolstadt, Neckarsulm
• Plant Tours – See Erlebnisführungen – Ingolstadt (in German)
• Plant Tours – See Erlebnisführungen – Neckarsulm (in German)
Audi Museum: Ingolstadt – See Audi museum mobile (in English) or Audi museum mobile (in German)
Audi European Delivery for US Customers: Yes. See the www.audiusa.com website.
Audi Worldwide: audi.com (in English)
BMW • MINI
As befits its name, BMW (Bayrische Motoren Werke, Bavarian Motor Works) has its headquarters in Munich, the capital of Bavaria. Although it is best known for its cars today, BMW began as a manufacturer of aircraft engines in the First World War (as Rapp Motorenwerke) and later produced air-cooled radial and other types of engines, even a jet engine, for the German aircraft industry before and during World War II. BMW did not begin manufacturing automobiles until 1928. After almost going bankrupt in the 1950s, the BMW car division was saved when it bought the rights to manufacture the Italian Iso Isetta, with its odd front single-door design (see photo). The BMW Isetta was powered by one of the firm’s motorcycle engines. (BMW still makes motorcycles at its plant in Berlin.)
BMW has overseas subsidiaries and factories located all around the world in nine nations from Brazil and the US to China and Japan, but this global business is still a very Bavarian/German company. In Germany alone, BMW has plants producing cars and motorcycles in seven different cities. Located on the edge of Munich’s Olympic Park (built for the 1972 Olympics), BMW has a massive headquarters complex with its Munich factory, distinctive four-cylinder headquarters tower, the BMW Museum, and the BMW World (BMW Welt) exhibition arena (first opened in October 2007) where new BMW owners can take delivery of their new BMW automobile. According to BMW: “Picking up your new BMW in Munich [at the BMW Welt] is the start of an unbelievable experience.”
BMW Headquarters in Germany: Munich
BMW Factories in Germany: Munich, Berlin, Dingolfing, Landshut, Leipzig, Regensburg, Wackersdorf
• Munich Plant Tours – See www.bmw-besuchen.com (in German)
BMW Museum: Munich – See BMW Museum Tours
BMW Welt: Munich – See www.bmw-welt.com
BMW European Delivery for US Customers: Yes. See the www.bmwusa.com website.
The Ford Motor Company began operations in Hamburg, Germany in 1912 with a parts operation, but Ford didn’t really establish itself in Germany until 1924-1925, when the American company established a sales office in Berlin and received a permit to import tractors. On August 18, 1925 the Ford Motor Company AG was officially registered in Berlin as a German corporation.
Ford set up an assembly plant in a rented warehouse in the Westhafen (West Port) district of Berlin, which was well situated for receiving deliveries of parts and material via the country’s canal network. The first Model T was produced in Germany, with imported parts, in April 1926. After making about 3800 vehicles, the Berlin assembly operation for Model Ts ended in August 1927. Nearly a year later, production resumed in Berlin, now for the new Ford Model A.
In March 1929 General Motors purchased a controlling interest in Germany’s Opel. This move by GM forced Henry Ford into building a full Ford auto factory in Germany. Before the end of 1929 Ford acquired a site in the Niehl district of Cologne that had been made available by the city’s mayor, Konrad Adenauer. The 170,000 sq. meter site was directly beside the Rhine, ensuring excellent access to Germany’s water transport network. On October 2, 1930 Henry Ford and Adenauer laid the foundation for the Cologne Ford plant, which cost 12 million marks to build. Ford’s Berlin operation shut down in April 1931, and on May 4, 1931 the Cologne plant began production of Fords “made in Germany.”
Ford Headquarters in Germany: Cologne (Köln-Niehl)
Ford Factories in Germany: Cologne and Saarlouis
• Ford Plant Tours – See Werkführung bei Ford (in German) – “Erleben Sie eine spannende und informative Führung durch unser modernes Werk am Standort Köln. Sehen Sie aus nächster Nähe, wie der Ford Fiesta produziert wird.”
Ford Museum: None. There is a small exhibition of classic Ford models as part of the factory tour.
Ford European Delivery for US Customers: No.
VIDEO: Cologne Ford Factory (Robots at work, How Stuff Works)
MERCEDES-BENZ (Daimler AG)
When Karl Benz (1844-1929) invented the gasoline-powered automobile in 1885 (the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, 1886), he could not have imagined how much his “horseless carriage” would change the world. Benz had founded Benz & Cie. Rheinische Gasmotorenfabrik in 1883. That same year, independently of Benz, Gottlieb Daimler (1834-1900) patented his gasoline motor with “sparkplug ignition” and an engine-speed regulator system. The two Daimler patents were the basis for the world’s first fast-running internal combustion engine. Although the two inventors never met in person, their firms would later join forces to create the automaker Daimler-Benz AG (now Daimler AG).
Today Mercedes-Benz is a global automobile manufacturer and a division of the German company Daimler AG. The Mercedes brand is known for luxury vehicles, buses, coaches, and trucks. The headquarters of Mercedes-Benz are in Stuttgart, the capital of Baden-Württemberg.
Daimler AG has had many evolutions, mergers and divorces over the years. The trademarked Mercedes-Benz name arose in 1926 following the merger of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (with its Mercedes brand) and Benz & Cie. to create Daimler-Benz AG. More recently, in 1998, the company became known as DaimlerChrysler AG after Daimler-Benz AG merged with the American Chrysler Corporation. After problems that some observers thought were caused by German dominance, wags joked: “How do you pronounce DaimlerChrysler? – The ‘Chrysler’ is silent.” In 2007, after quality problems had damaged the Daimler name, the Germans sold off Chrysler to the Cerberus investment group, and the German automaker became simply Daimler AG. In 2016 Daimler sold 2.08 million vehicles. Daimler now operates the following divisions: Mercedes-Benz Cars, Daimler Trucks, Mercedes-Benz Vans, Daimler Buses, Daimler smart, and Daimler Financial Services.
Mercedes Headquarters in Germany (Daimler AG): Stuttgart
Mercedes Factories in Germany: Sindelfingen, Bremen, Rastatt
• Plant Tours – See Werkbesichtigung Sindelfingen (in German)
• Plant Tours – See Bremen Tourism – Factory Tour (in English)
Mercedes Museum: Mercedesstraße 100, Stuttgart – See Mercedes Museum
Mercedes European Delivery for US Customers: Yes. In Bremen or Sindelfingen. See the www.mbusa.com website.
OPEL (Adam Opel AG)
One of Germany’s largest carmakers today was founded as a sewing machine manufacturer by Adam Opel (1837-1895) in 1862. By 1886 the company in Rüsselsheim (Hesse) was also producing bicycles. Its first automobile debuted in 1899, four years after Adam Opel’s death. His widow and five sons would guide the enterprise over many years. The company was incorporated as an Aktiengesellschaft (AG) in December 1928. Only a few months later, in March 1929, General Motors, impressed by Opel’s modern production facilities, bought a majority interest in Adam Opel AG. In 1931 GM bought out the Opel family for $33.3 million, taking full control. In 1935 Opel became the first German automaker to produce over 100,000 vehicles a year.
In 1933 the Nazis took over the reins of the German government, but the American General Motors made no effort to pull out of Germany. On the contrary, GM followed Nazi dictates during the early Hitler years, firing or moving Jewish employees back to the US. On June 9, 1938 GM vice president James D. Mooney, head of the Opel division, was awarded a medal of honor (das Verdienstkreuz des Ordens vom Deutschen Adler) by Hitler himself.
Even during the war, GM (and Ford) kept the German division and manufactured military trucks and other vehicles, partially using foreign laborers. In 1944, this led to the odd situation of American and other Allied bombing raids on the American-owned Opel factories in Rüsselsheim and Brandenburg an der Havel! General Motors did not remove its last American manager from Opel until 1941. After Germany declared war on the United States, GM was able to write off Adam Opel AG as “assets held in enemy territory.” Opel cranked out an additional 1.1 million vehicles until the end of the war.
In 1945, literally rising out of the ashes, Opel’s heavily damaged Rüsselsheim factory, now in the American occupation zone, did not produce a single Opel vehicle, but it was gearing up to do so. In 1946 it began production of Frigidaire refrigerators, a product line that continued in Germany until 1959. By the mid-1950s the Rüsselsheim plant was again making cars, including the Opel Olympia and Rekord. In the 1960s, one of Opel’s most successful models, the Kadett, debuted. The Kapitän, the Admiral, and the Diplomat models soon followed. Opel was on a roll for years – until the First Gulf War and the oil crisis put a dent in the entire auto industry. 1980 became the first year in which Opel lost money since 1950.
At various times after 1980, Opel struggled to maintain its market share. Partly this was due to problems caused by poor leadership at GM’s new European headquarters based in Zurich, Switzerland. By 2006, Opel had only 27,661 employees compared to 44,700 in 1996. To support its German production, in 2007 GM began exporting the Opel Astra to the US, where it was known as the Saturn.
By 2008, the US subprime-mortgage, financial and banking crisis was having an impact on the world economy and General Motors. GM wanted to sell off Opel. By 2009 Opel’s board of directors was moving towards making Opel and its British Vauxhall division a separate European entity, no longer tied to GM. But Opel was in trouble. At the end of March 2009 German chancellor Angela Merkel spoke in Rüsselsheim, declaring that while Opel was not too big to fail, the German government would help support the firm, but not with direct government funds. Opel was put into a public holding trust, supported by German government loans. After that, things got a bit complicated – with various buyout offers from Fiat and other investors. In the end, General Motors decided to hold on to Opel, and it was able to pay back the trust loans.
In 2013 a revived General Motors announced that it would make new investments in Opel and Vauxhall over the next three years. In 2014 GM placed all activities in Europe and Russia under the newly created Opel Group GmbH umbrella, based in Rüsselsheim. Besides Germany, Opel today sells its vehicles under the Opel brand in northern Africa, China, Israel, Singapor, South Africa, Chile, and the Middle East.
In early 2017, the French concern Groupe PSA, formerly PSA Peugeot Citroën (1991-2016), announced a takeover of Opel AG. Groupe PSA gave the German and UK governments assurances that they would protect car factory jobs and the Opel/Vauxhall brands at least until 2021.
Opel Headquarters in Germany: Adam Opel AG, Bahnhofsplatz, Rüsselsheim am Main
Opel Factories in Germany: Rüsselsheim, Eisenach, Kaiserslautern
• Opel Plant Tours – See Werkstour bei Opel in Rüsselsheim (in German) – You can book a reservation on this Opel site. Tours are also offered in Eisenach.
Opel Museum: None. There is a small exhibition of classic Opel models as part of the factory tour. A private Opel museum in Herne, a city in the Ruhr region near Bochum, offers much more to see: opelmuseum-herne.de.
European Delivery for US Customers: No. Not even for German customers.
First of all, please do NOT pronounce this German car brand as PORSH! The correct pronunciation of Porsche is PORSH-UH. It’s a family name that comes from the company’s founder, Ferdinand Porsche (PORSH-UH). Got that?
The company’s full name is actually Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG*, but that is normally shortened to Porsche AG. But when it comes to the Porsche company, nothing is simple. Porsche AG is headquartered in Stuttgart, and is owned by Volkswagen AG, which is itself majority-owned by Porsche Automobil Holding SE. Porsche currently has a lineup includes the 718 Boxster/Cayman, the 911, the Panamera, the Macan, and the Cayenne models.
*Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG = Doktor Ingenieur honoris causa Ferdinand Porsche Aktiengesellschaft.
It all began in 1931 when Ferdinand Porsche founded the company named for himself. At first the firm known as Dr. Ing. h. c. F. Porsche GmbH (later AG) was an automobile design, development and consultancy operation. It did not make any cars.
One of Porsche’s first contracts came from the German government, which was now under the leadership of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. The Nazis wanted Porsche to help design and develop an affordable “people’s car,” a Volkswagen. Ferdinand Porsche’s brilliant design resulted in what would later be known as the Volkswagen Beetle. Ever since, Porsche and Volkswagen have been intertwined in one way or another. (More about the VW story further below.)
Following the Second World War, Ferdinand Porsche was arrested for war crimes in connection with his VW work, and spent 20 months in prison. His son, Ferry Porsche, wanted to build his own car, because he could not find one that he wanted to buy. In the time before his father’s release in August 1947 Ferry tried to keep Porsche alive and develop his new car – what would become the Porsche 356. The first 356 versions were built in Austria, where Louise Piëch (1904-1999), Ferry’s married sister lived. The prototype car was shown to German auto dealers, and once pre-orders reached a high enough level, production began at Porsche Konstruktionen GesmbH, founded by Ferry and his sister. In 1950, manufacturing of the 356 was taken over by Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche GmbH in Stuttgart.
Materials and parts were generally in short supply in post-war Germany, so the Porsche 356 used components from the Volkswagen Beetle. But the 356 went through several developmental stages during production, and most of the Volkswagen-sourced parts were replaced by original Porsche parts.
By 1964 the 356 needed a redesign. After years of gaining important racing experience, Porsche launched the Porsche 911, another air-cooled, rear-engined sports car, this time with a six-cylinder “boxer” engine. The 911 would become Porsche’s best-known, iconic model.
From the very beginning, Porsche and Volkswagen have had a close relationship. Even after the VW design days, the two companies (plus Audi) have collaborated on designing cars and engines. The Porsche 924 and 944, with many Audi/VW components, was built at Audi’s Neckarsulm factory.
But in August 2009 the story reached full circle. At that time Porsche SE and Volkswagen AG agreed that the car manufacturing operations of the two companies would merge in 2011, to form an “integrated automotive group.” Currently Porsche Automobil Holding SE (Porsche SE) is the majority owner of Volkswagen AG. Porsche SE has its headquarters in the Zuffenhausen district of Stuttgart, which is also the location of Porsche’s auto museum and factory.
Porsche Headquarters in Germany (Porsche AG): Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen
Porsche Factories in Germany: Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen, Leipzig
• Plant Tours – See Factory Guided Tour – Zuffenhausen (in English)
Porsche Museum: “A journey back through the history of Porsche” – See Porsche Museum – Take the S6 train to Stuttgart Neuwirtshaus (Porscheplatz) station. The museum is right next to the station. See the museum photo above.
Porsche European Delivery for US Customers: Yes. But factory pickup in Zuffenhausen is temporarily unavailable until after mid-2017 due to construction. See the Porsche European Delivery website.
VOLKSWAGEN • SEAT
The original Volkswagen car company was founded in 1937 in the German town that is now called Wolfsburg. The Nazi-sponsored German Labor Front (Deutsche Arbeitsfront, DAF), based in Wolfsburg, wanted to create a low-cost “people’s car” (Volkswagen) that would make it possible for the average German to purchase an automobile. Adolf Hitler himself took a personal interest in the project, which required heavy government subsidies in order to make the car financially feasible.
The Wolfsburg factory only produced a few “KdF-Wagen” (strength-through-joy cars) by the time the Second World War started in 1939. No customers actually received any cars, although in 1944 a special edition VW was presented to Hitler on April 20, his 55th birthday. The war changed the factory’s production to military vehicles. As with other Nazi enterprises, some of the labor force consisted of slave labor from concentration camps. At the end of the war in 1945, the VW factory was barely able to function. The British occupation military governor, Ivan Hirst, managed to get the plant back into limited production of what was now called the Volkswagen. The VW plant was offered to foreign carmakers, but they considered the beetle-shaped car too ugly and noisy to market. In 1948, the British offered the Volkswagen company to the Ford Motor Company, free of charge. It was an offer Ford refused.
Volkswagen, now German government-owned, would survive to become an important part of the West German economy. Heinrich Nordhoff (1899–1968), a former senior manager at Opel, was recruited to run the VW factory in 1948. By the 1950s, VW cars were being exported to Canada, the United States, and the UK. Volkswagen of America was formed in April 1955 to handle sales and service in the US.
Today Volkswagen is the world’s largest automaker. The Volkswagen Group is a large international corporation with multiple car and truck brands, including Audi, SEAT, Lamborghini, Bentley, Bugatti, Scania, MAN, and Škoda. Volkswagen Group’s global headquarters are located in the firm’s historic home of Wolfsburg, Germany. In addition to plants in Germany, Volkswagen has manufacturing facilities in Mexico, the USA, Slovakia, China, India, Indonesia, Russia, Malaysia, Brazil, Argentina, Portugal, Spain, Poland, the Czech Republic, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and South Africa.
Factory visits are possible in Wolfsburg (the main factory) and Dresden (the Transparent Factory).
VW Headquarters in Germany: Wolfsburg
VW Factories in Germany: Wolfsburg, Dresden, Emden, Zwickau; additional facilities in various German cities produce engines and other car components
• Plant Tours – See VW Factory Visits (Wolfsburg) (in English)
• Plant Tours – See VW Factory Visits (Dresden, Gläserne Manufaktur) (in English, the Transparent Factory)
VW Museum 1: ZeitHaus in der Autostadt Wolfsburg – See ZeitHaus Museum Tour (in German)
VW Museum 2: Automuseum Volkswagen, Wolfsburg – See AutoMuseum Volkswagen (mostly about the VW Beetle and VW Bus) Located not far from the VW factory at Dieselstraße 35 in Wolfsburg. This museum is actually larger than the ZeitHaus museum. See How to Find Us. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.
VW Theme Park: See Autostadt (in English)
VW European Delivery for US Customers: No. Volkswagen is the only major German/European automaker that does not offer its US customers this option.
Besides the big carmaker museums, there are many other auto museums in Germany for almost any taste. Most are private, non-profit museums featuring historic, classic automobiles (Oldtimer) no longer being manufactured. These museums are scattered all across Germany (and neighboring France). See Liste von Automuseen in Deutschland (in German, but it’s a list, for crying out loud)
Have fun! Viel Spaß!