A Pictorial Visit to Bugatti’s Molsheim dream factory
A riveting insight into the world’s most powerful, fastest, most luxurious and most exclusive production super sports car – The Chiron is completely hand-built in Bugatti Atelier
A factory founded by an Italian Ettore Bugatti back in 1909 at Alsace, Molsheim a part of Germany then. Now it is the north-eastern region of France and is heavily modified with a floor space of more than 1,000 square meters to produce the world’s fastest and powerful yet the most luxurious super sports car ever.
Bugatti Atelier as it is called would churn out approximately 70 Chiron in 2017, hand-crafted by only 20 employs that will put together 1800 parts to assemble a single Chiron. A car that would produce 1500 bhp comes with a complex nature of the processes – naturally, every Chiron would be subjected to the most stringent quality controls ever.
The fans of the speed and the connoisseurs of the mechanical art who have signed their names on the dotted lines of the order book, Bugatti is making their automobile dreams come true with the Chiron. Before these customers can take delivery of their new Chiron, there is a lot of planning that is required. The process begins with the configuration of the car, which is completed by the customer together with a designer from Bugatti. Each Chiron will be unique and bespoke. It would be then manufactured in accordance with the customer’s preference. Hence, personalizing is a top priority for Bugatti.
Chiron is moved on a very tight timeline of six months. The journey takes place right from the inception of the customer’s thought process to the physical hand over at Molsheim Bugatti factory should a customer would choose, otherwise, Bugatti insists its customer have a look as well. Here’s the breakdown of the whole process.
A rainbow of 23 topcoat colors and eight carbon variants form the basic range for the exterior. In the interior, customers can choose from leather in 31 different colors or Alcantara in eight colors, as well as 30 stitching, 18 carpet, and 11 belt colors. In addition to this basic range, thousands of other colors are possible. Here is the extreme, individual colors may even be created to match a favorite handbag or the label on a customer’s preferred brand of mineral water!
Bugatti likes to call its customization program as “La Maison Pur Sang“. This put Bugatti in a position where Bugatti promises to deliver virtually every customer’s wish and desire. This also includes design options such as logos or initials on the bottom of the rear spoiler or embroidery on the headrest and leather inlays on the central console.
After agreeing and signing off configuration on the desire-sheet a production slot will then be assigned to a customer’s vehicle, the parts that are needed are ordered. Once the countdown has started and it will take about six months for the delivery of the Chiron.
Just a month before the start of production in Molsheim, the bodyshell is assembled with the monocoque and chassis substructure. Each part is assigned a kit number and is then transferred to the paint shop. It takes about three weeks to apply the various coats of paint. In the case of visible carbon fiber, a field in which Bugatti is the market leader in terms of production quality and diversity of colors, six layers are required. For the top coat, up to eight layers may be needed depending on whether the finish that has been ordered is uni, metallic or pearlescent. This process is painstakingly time-consuming as all the layers are applied by hand and each individual coat needs to be sanded down and polished before work can start on the next coat. Phew!
Interestingly, at Bugatti, no conveyor belts nor robots can be found. The engineers work at stations. With 12 stations in total, and every station is unique to its working. At the first station, the powertrain is prepared for assembly. This is supplied pre-assembled from the Volkswagen Group engine plant in Salzgitter, where specialists build the 1,500 PS engine in a pilot hall equipped exclusively for Bugatti and then put it through its paces on a test bench for eight hours. At the same time, a similar procedure is applied to the new 7-speed dual-clutch transmission which has been made bigger and stronger to accommodate the high power output of the Chiron and the gigantic torque of 1,600 Nm.
At the second station, the powertrain is installed on the chassis. Thanks to the increased use of carbon and other lightweight materials, this unit weighs 628 kilograms and is no heavier than that of the Veyron, the final version of which had a power output which was 300 PS lower. There are two chassis building platforms in the Atelier. At each station, three employees spend about one week on the assembly of the chassis. In contrast to a conventional production line worker, each of these employees must be in a position to assemble the entire chassis, including the rear end, monocoque and frame.
The rear end of the vehicle is built around the powertrain. At the same time, the monocoque and the front end are joined together and equipped with the wiring harnesses required. The pipes connecting the engine at the rear with the radiators at the front are also installed. Cooling is crucially important in the Chiron. The vehicle is equipped with three water pumps, one large pump for the high-temperature cycle and two smaller pumps for the low-temperature cycle. The cooling water pipes have the same diameter as a fire brigade’s spray lance and the flow rate is correspondingly high. The coolant flows to the engine along the driver’s side and returns on the passenger’s side after cooling the engine.
The only electronic tool used in chassis assembly is the new EC nut-runner system. This allows a data curve of each bolt tightened on the chassis to be stored on a computer connected to the system, which then gives the assembly worker a signal when the right torque value is reached. There are more than 1,800 bolted joints on a Chiron, with documentation required for 1,068.
The high point of chassis assembly is definitely the marriage – the operation of joining the monocoque and the rear end. 14 titanium bolts ensure that the bond between the two units is durable and extremely strong. Titanium was selected to save weight; each bolt only weighs 34 grams.
Finally, four wheels are bolted to the chassis and it then rolls forward to the next station – the filling unit, where all the operating fluids are filled into the vehicle: engine and transmission oil, brake fluid, hydraulic fluid, and coolant. The coolant is filled in under vacuum which is maintained for 10 minutes in order to test the coolant cycle for any leaks again. This is where the 16-cylinder engine is started in the vehicle for the first time – always an exciting moment for the production team.
After this stage, the chassis travels a few meters to the rolling dynamometer. This is the part of the production facility that called for the greatest investment in preparation for the Chiron. The modifications, including larger electric cables, were necessary as the old rolling dynamometer could not absorb the 1,500 PS and 1,600 Nm developed by the Chiron. The new unit is so powerful that it can produce electricity with a current of up to 1,200 amps during operation. Bugatti feeds the excess power generated to the local grid in Molsheim. The Bugatti rolling dynamometer is the most powerful of its type in the world.
The impressive dynamometer is installed in a separate room with its own ventilation system for vehicle cooling and pollution control. For safety reasons, all the wheels of the car are fastened to the floor using special adapters. Speeds of up to 200 km/h and acceleration under full power (1,500 PS) can be simulated. A team member sits behind the wheel and follows all the tests on the monitor. Among other things, he monitors the engine settings, communication between the engine and transmission, the adjustment of the mass airflow meter and the clutch as well as the functioning of ESC, ABS and other programs. The tests take between two and three hours, during which time the vehicle covers about 60 kilometers.
The next stage is a water test. Here, the Chiron is exposed to monsoon rain of varying intensity for 30 minutes to show that there are no leaks.
The interior fittings are only installed when this test has been completed. Here, two team members make sure that all the parts are installed in the right place in the interior of the Chiron, a process that normally takes about three days. Customers can choose between a luxurious variant with full leather trim or a more sporty combination of leather and carbon fiber.
When the interior has been completed, the Chiron is prepared for its test and final inspection drive. For this purpose, the entire supercar is covered by a strong transparent plastic foil. This process alone takes a whole day. A further day is required for removing the foil and cleaning the vehicle following the test drive.
Before the Chiron leaves the Atelier for the first time on its test drive, the electronic functions of the vehicle are tested and the track of the wheels is adjusted. By the way, Bugatti does not use the original wheels and underbody on the test drive to ensure that these parts are protected against wear and damage. During the test drive, the Chiron has driven 300 km through the Vosges to the airport in Colmar, where it completes test of functions requiring speeds in excess of 250 km/h on the runway. The return trip is covered at a more “relaxed” pace on the Autobahn to allow the vehicle to cool down. If the test driver gives the Chiron the thumbs up following the trip, the transmission oil is changed and the original wheels and underbody are installed in the Atelier. The car then completes the last test drive over 50 km before final dynamic approval is given.
The Chiron returns back into the factory and goes straight to the paint shop All the protective foils are removed and the vehicle is then cleaned and polished. The cosmetic preparation of the Chiron takes two days before it is transferred to the light tunnel. An inspection of the finish for more than six hours is carried out. The auditor in the light tunnel has given his final approval of the finish, Christophe Pichon meets the Heads of the Sales, Quality Assurance and Customer Service Departments for management approval. Once the managers are satisfied with the condition of the vehicle can an appointment for handing over to the customer be arranged.
Unlike any other car manufacturing process, Bugatti follows an unusual protocol by keeping the customer engaged all the while. So the customer not only kept in the loop with communications will he would already have visited Molsheim several times during the assembly process of his asset. Following a test drive in a demonstration vehicle, the signature of the contract and the configuration of their own personal Chiron, customers welcome the opportunity to witness the creation of their vehicle personally during production in the Atelier. Those, who really want to, can even spend a day working on their own sports car.
That’s a long journey. Usually, Boeing assembles its single-aisle B377-800 jetliner in less than a month! After about two months, the Chiron leaves the Atelier. During this time, 20 employees, including two women, have assembled a total of about 1,800 individual parts to create the world’s most powerful, fastest, most luxurious and most exclusive production super sports car. They are supported by 17 logistics employees and 15 quality assurance colleagues. Following production, their colleagues in Customer Service, the famous Bugatti Flying Doctors, assume responsibility for individual support to ensure that each vehicle remains in perfect condition and owners can be sure of having added the crowning glory to their collection – the ultimate super sports car.
Image Credits: All Images and footage are provided by Bugatti.