Building a 4,398-pound Car (That Goes 261 mph)

With a base price on the order of €2.4-million and a production run of 500, the Bugatti Chiron is not just any car. And it isn’t built like one, either.

Bugatti is building just 500 of them in its facility in Molsheim, France. The 1,500-hp study in carbon-fiber artistry. It has a base price of €2.4-million. While seeing one at an international auto show is certainly a possibility, a plant tour where the Chiron is being produced is probably far less likely (unless you happen to be one of the few buying a vehicle: they’ll even throw in the opportunity to spend a day helping build it).

So here is a look at several of the operations that go into producing this vehicle in what the company calls the “Atelier,” an oval-shaped production building that was opened in 2005 and that has a floor space of more than 1,000-m2 (10,764-ft2). It is where the company had been producing the Veyron.

There are 12 stations required for production. There are some 1,800 parts assembled during a two-month process. (Yes, two months.) Twenty people are directly involved in the build. There are 17 logistics people and 15 quality assurance people supporting them.

The build sequence starts with the preparation of the powertrain. The engine is preassembled at the Volkswagen Group plant in Salzgitter, Germany (Bugatti is part of the Group). Then the engine and the seven-speed dual clutch transmission are installed on the chassis (which has a mass of 628 kg, or 1,384 lb.). There are two chassis-build platforms, each manned by three employees who spend about a week working on the vehicle.

The rear end of the vehicle is built around the powertrain. The monocoque and the front end are joined, wired (with harnesses) and plumbed (the radiators are at the front and the engine is at the rear and there are three water pumps, so there is plenty of tubing involved). The monocoque and the rear end are then assembled; the connection is made with 14 titanium bolts, each of which weighs a mere 34 grams.

(Speaking of fasteners: the only electronic tool used in chassis assembly is an electric nutrunner that tightens the bolts to a specified torque. There are more than 1,800 bolted joints needed to assemble a Chiron.)

The four wheels are attached, so at this point the vehicle is rolled to the next position (there are no conveyors in the Atelier). Fluids—oil, brake fluid, hydraulic fluid, coolant—are loaded and the 16-cylinder engine is started.

The chassis is moved to the rolling dynamometer—said to be one of the most powerful automotive dynos in the world—that is capable of handling the power of the vehicle (e.g., 1,180 lb-ft; 1,479 hp). (Excess electricity generated during the test is sent to the grid of the local municipality.) Tests are as long as three hours.

The carbon fiber skin is then applied. But before that occurs in the Atelier, the pieces are fitted to mobile frames in a technology center that is 200 m (656 ft) away. These frames are constructed so that they mirror the actual vehicle. This pre-assembly allows each part to be inspected for fit and finish and to assure precise assembly on the vehicle. 

Next, 30 minutes in a water test. Assuming there are no leaks, it is on to installing the interior components. Two workers spend about three days on this task.
The vehicle is then wrapped with a strong, transparent, plastic foil—which requires a day. Test wheels are put on the car and the underbody belly pan is replaced. The electronic functions are checked out.

Then the car goes out for a test drive, via a circuitous route (about 300 km (186 miles) versus the Google Maps’ 58 km (36 miles)), from Molsheim to Colmar. The Chiron is taken to an airport where tests are conducted at speeds in excess of 250 km/h (155 mph) on the runway. Back to the Atelier, where the transmission fluid is replaced, the test wheels swapped out for those that will be used on the car, and the final underbody is put back in place. Then it goes out for a 50-km (31-mile) test drive.

Almost done, it is on to paint. The wrap is removed from the body, the car is cleaned and prepped, and then it is painted. Two days are required to get the vehicle ready for inspection in the light tunnel. Inspection in the tunnel requires six or more hours. Once things are considered to be 100 percent, Sales, Quality Assurance and Customer Service management must sign off on the car.