In a works council on Monday morning, the direction of the Audi Brussels plant communicated that the Audi Q4 e-tron production, planned to start soon, has been postponed. For the moment, there is no additional production capacity needed.
The smallest electric Audi was already in production in VW’s biggest EV factory in Zwickau (Germany), with a capacity for 300 000 EVs per year, different models within the VW Group, all based on the dedicated MEB platform.
At the end of last year, Audi announced that the Audi brussels plant would also be prepared to assemble Q4 e-tron SUVs next to the Q8 e-tron, which is the main model for the plant (and only assembled there). The reason was the risk of overdemanding the VW Group factory in Zwickau, where several models on the same platform are made.
Zwickau under pressure
Meanwhile, the situation has changed. Some three weeks ago, the VW Group announced that it was laying off (temporary) workforce at its Zwikcau plant. Apparently, as incentives for EVs are declining in Germany and the economy remains weak, demand for the ID. models from Volkswagen, also assembled there, is underperforming.
The result is that 269 temporary workers are laid off, and a demand for a shift system change is necessary to align supply and demand. At the moment, there are some 10 000 workers in Zwickau, of which 2 000 have interim contracts.
The weak demand is attributed to several reasons, like high inflation, recession, lack of consumer confidence, and dwindling incentives. But Volkswagen also faces high German labor costs, clogging competition with the lower-priced Chinese rivals and Tesla, which manages to manufacture EVs at a more competitive price in the same country.
It takes the American automaker ten hours to assemble a Model 3, but for an ID.3, the production time is threefold. On top of that, Tesla has been aggressively downpricing its models, gaining market share all over Europe. At the same time, the reputation of Tesla in treating its workforce is far from ideal.
The German group is also taking action by delocalising some of its future EVs. The Cupra Tavascan, for instance, will be produced in China and exported from there to slash labor costs.
And Audi Brussels?
Which brings us back to Audi Brussels. At the moment, only 100 to 200 test cars of the Q4 e-tron model will be assembled in Brussels, where the line for the MEB platform models is ready. Real production of the smaller Audi EV has thus been postponed.
The Brussels factory is, like before, depending on the success of the (recently face-lifted) Q8 e-tron (two body types), which is selling very well until now. But it’s never healthy for a whole car manufacturing plant to depend on one model in a cyclic industry like the car business. That’s why the initial plan to build also the Q4 e-tron in Brussels and build a line for MEB platform assembly was greeted with great enthusiasm.
Now, the mood has reversed. A lot of the 3 000 workers in Brussels are worried, especially the 500 that have interim contracts (referring to what has happened in Zwickau. That’s why the morning shift didn’t start to work on Monday, followed by the same strike movement by the afternoon shift. On Tuesday, the assembly line apparently started rolling again around noon.
“The employees are worried, and the direction has not persuaded them,” says ACV Metea union representative Jan Baetens in the newspaper De Standaard. “We have the impression that the German headquarters are panicking.”
Audi Brussels spokesman Peter D’hoore tries to appease things: “The current Q8 e-tron will surely be made for a couple of years still in Brussels, and production has risen year after year. We still have time for a successor model.”
But that’s exactly where the shoe pinches. There are growing rumors that the production of the new Q8 e-tron (on a different PPE platform) will move to Mexico, which leaves Brussels without a car to produce as of 2026.
“Under these circumstances, we wouldn’t have a base model anymore in Brussels,” concludes Baetens. “But the direction of the Belgian plant is doing everything to promote the Brussels factory at the German headquarters. At least, that’s positive.