Frankfurt — Six months ago, Volkswagen (VW) plunked down a few dozen building containers next to its sprawling assembly halls in Zwickau, eastern Germany. The graceless space stands apart from the rest of the sleek plant, but it is inside that the carmaker is really breaking new ground.

One module houses a walk-in time capsule curated with meticulous attention to detail. There is a vintage bicycle and antique furniture; old books and black-and-white photos adorn the walls under the glow of light bulbs mounted on old-fashioned fixtures; hidden loudspeakers play the clip-clop of horses pulling carriages...

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