The 2010 FIFA World Cup has come to an end and South Africa was the dream host – no one could have asked for more. However, Volkswagen Group South Africa, the largest employer in the Nelson Mandela Bay region, hasn’t had much time to catch its breath. That’s partly because the company has big plans, and partly because an important anniversary is coming up: almost 60 years ago, in August 1951, the first Beetle made in South Africa left the assembly line. Anyone visiting the state-of-the-art factory in Uitenhage today finds that pretty hard to imagine.
When Group Chairman Martin Winterkorn opened a new logistics center near Pretoria during the World Cup he underscored the important role that South Africa plays in Volkswagen’s global growth strategy. Winterkorn used the opportunity offered by a works meeting to say a personal “thank-you” to employees at the Uitenhage plant for their commitment. “South Africa and Volkswagen have been a winning team for a long time,” the CEO said, looking forward to 2011 when VW South Africa celebrates its 60th birthday.
Last year already saw several process changes at the plant in preparation for the anniversary. A new production system was introduced at the same time as new assembly technologies made their debut and new buildings went up. Around €140 million was invested in modernizing the plant where the last Citi Golf left the assembly line after 31 years. This year, production of the right-hand drive Polo, CrossPolo and Polo Vivo – the successor to the legendary Citi Golf – is to double to 120,000 units. To that end, an additional €50 million or so is being invested in modernizing and expanding the press shop. As David Powels, Managing Director of Volkswagen Group South Africa, says: “In the past, Volkswagen South Africa imported over 60 percent of its parts. With the production of the new right-hand drive Polo for global export we are now able to boost the share of parts produced in South Africa quite significantly. Based on 120,000 cars per year, we are raising local content to 70 percent.” Success vindicates VW South Africa’s decision: With a current market share of 23.8 percent, Volkswagen led the field in July, ahead of Hyundai (17.8 percent) and Toyota (12.1 percent). With the Polo Vivo, the company is following in the successful footsteps of the Citi Golf: The Vivo and the Polo top the model statistics. And VW South Africa intends to conquer the market for light commercial vehicles with the Amarok, which will be launched in South Africa in October.
One striking feature of a factory tour is the “Learning Academies”. This is where employees train on the product. “We’ve expanded our training activities enormously and we’ve included senior management in the process,” Powels says.
Training is one top priority, social responsibility another. This doesn’t end at the factory gates. “Obviously we want to build cars and make a profit. But without an intensive commitment to social responsibility projects we might run short of customers in the future, because it’s only people with jobs who can buy our products,” Powels explains.
VW South Africa is a pioneer in the fight against Aids and has been actively committed to the battle against this disease since 2001. Each year, more than 300,000 die of Aids in South Africa. Together with the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa NUMSA and GTZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit), the company established a workplace program in 2001. The main goals: To treat the victims of the disease, prevent infection, provide free Aids tests for all employees and their partners. Dr. Alex Govender, Manager of Corporate Health Services, has already received international recognition of his commitment, is a member of the Board of Governors at the South African Coalition on HIV/Aids (SABCOHA) and was recently appointed to the Global Agenda Council of the World Economic Forum. That speaks for itself, but Govender is untiring in his efforts: “There’s still a long way to go.” He still wants to set up a psychological service as well as a factory sports center.
- Volkswagen Group