Opening of the In-Campus in Ingolstadt: Data instead of oil – Bavaria

The toxic legacy of the past should be dealt with. Nothing on the huge area in the southeast of Ingolstadt is reminiscent of the former oil refinery that fueled Bavaria’s economic rise from the mid-1960s and made Ingolstadt an “oil paradise”. The chimneys, which were visible from afar, disappeared from the cityscape ten years ago and were blown up. Nothing would remain of the refinery, even in the soil where it transformed oil into fuel and other products for almost 50 years. It was too contaminated: with 900 tons of heavy oil, 200 tons of light gasoline and carcinogenic chemicals. The earth had to be cleaned for five years – a crazy undertaking that has not yet been completed. By 2028, they will be pumping groundwater out of the ground to purify it. It is one of the largest soil renovations in Germany.

But progress is impatient, and so high-ranking guests gathered around Prime Minister Markus Söder (CSU) and the new Audi boss Gernot Döllner on Friday morning to close the city’s dirtiest chapter and open a new one. A technology park has been created on the old refinery site, in which politics and business have great hopes. The In-Campus, a joint venture between Audi and the city of Ingolstadt, is intended to promote structural change in the automotive industry.

Originally, Ingolstadt conservationists had pushed for the 75 hectare area to be completely renatured. After all, the oil factory was planted in the middle of the riparian forest in 1963. “But then it became clear how badly the area was contaminated,” says local BUND chairman Michael Würflein. Only a financially strong investor like Audi could handle this task. Now you have to live with industrial use. After all: 15 hectares of land are left to nature.

“Bavaria was dominated by agriculture until the 1950s,” said Mayor Christian Scharpf (SPD) at the opening. Only the establishment of several refineries made industrialization possible. He is now hoping for a similar impulse from the In-Campus. Audi has built a new data center with 2,400 square meters of server space and a new vehicle safety center for crash tests. The VW software company Cariad also has its largest headquarters here with 2,000 employees. A “first-class commitment” from the car manufacturer to Ingolstadt, said Scharpf. An Audi spokesman does not want to say how much the mega project cost. It was agreed that “silence” would be maintained.

The auto industry is undergoing profound change. Cariad boss Peter Bosch summed up the changes best in his speech. He quoted the former Bavarian Economics Minister Otto Schedl, who said in the 1960s: “Anyone who speaks of Ingolstadt today means oil.” Fortunately, that is over, said Bosch. “The oil of today is data.”

Where the oil refinery had stood since the mid-1960s, a huge future park has now been created, a joint venture between Audi and the city of Ingolstadt.

(Photo: Graeme Fordham/Audi)

He pointed out that the German auto industry was in danger of losing touch with China and the USA. This recently became clear at the IAA in Munich, where the strong presence from China frightened many a car manager. The change in the areas of digitalization, electromobility and autonomous driving “has already taken place there,” said Bosch – while German industry is still in the middle of it. Audi boss Döllner said that each of these developments was “so disruptive that it fundamentally changes the industry.” Politicians must support the industry, for example by expanding charging stations for electric cars.

Prime Minister Söder used the opening of the In-Campus to declare his commitment to the car as Germany’s “most important economic asset”. In view of China’s increasing strength in electromobility, he advocated greater support for German manufacturers of electric cars. In this context, he criticized the federal government’s planned cut in the state e-car bonus at the end of the year as “counterproductive”.

Auto industry: starting signal for the future?  Prime Minister Markus Söder (center) presses the symbolic start button for the opening of the In-Campus in Ingolstadt.

Starting signal for the future? Prime Minister Markus Söder (center) presses the symbolic start button for the opening of the In-Campus in Ingolstadt.

(Photo: Thomas Balbierer)

At the same time, Söder emphasized that he believes focusing on e-mobility is a mistake. He would like to see more “technology openness”. Söder doesn’t even want to write off the internal combustion engine – an “outstanding technology” – after all, there are now synthetic fuels. In addition, new oil and gas reserves would be developed worldwide. “Whether this fossil age will automatically end in ten years?” Söder asked, followed by a vague “I don’t know.”

This made Söder the only speaker who did not say goodbye to oil completely. Audi no longer wants to bring combustion engines onto the market from 2026 onwards. But it is actually the case that the old Ingolstadt oil pump continues to run. Audi and the city have cleaned up the toxic remains of the old Eriag refinery. But on the outskirts of the city, three other refineries, a pipeline from Italy and a tank farm continue to fuel the oil age. And with it also climate change.

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