Sixty years ago today, the first Volkswagen Beetle was produced in Uitenhage, South Africa.
The date 31 August 1951 is a significant date both for Volkswagen Group South Africa (VWSA) and the many South Africans who have either owned one of its cars or been employed at the Company.
Since then, VWSA has produced over 2.8 million vehicles, been awarded numerous export orders by its parent company, won a number of local and international awards and currently produces South Africa's two top-selling passenger vehicles.
Volkswagen Group South Africa Managing Director, David Powels, said the Company's come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1946 with the establishment of South African Motor Assemblers and Distributors (SAMAD), which produced 12 Studebakers a day, to the world class factory it is today – producing an average of 600 vehicles daily.
Powels said the original management, in the form of SAMAD's first MD, Melville Steele Brooks and Chairman, Baron Klaus von Oertzen, could not have predicted how Volkswagen would grow from a small Company with big dreams, and prosper over the next 60 years – not only building Volkswagens and Audis, but also Austins, Volvo's and Jeeps.
Since its introduction in 1951 until the end of production in 1979, 290 000 of the iconic Beetles were sold in South Africa. For 11 of those 28 years, it was the top selling vehicle in the country. Another proudly South African car, the Golf 1, was launched in 1979, and until the end of its life cycle at the end of 2009, 517 384 A1 Golfs had rolled of the production line in Uitenhage. These humble cars became giants in the motoring world, and would define generations of South Africans.
Volkswagen's advertising campaigns over the years also speak volumes. Who could forget the famous "Red, Yellow, Blue Citi Golf" TV campaigns, or the aerial views of thousands of its staff and another of VW vehicles - sprawled out in the shape of the company logo - in the "People's Cars" television ads, or of the father proudly handing over the keys to his beloved Beetle to his son?
Not only has it been producing "People's Cars" for six decades, but VWSA also has a proud history of putting people first – from having trained and qualified the country's first Black artisans in the 1980's to providing continuous training to its staff, suppliers and dealers today.
Over the years, the Volkswagen Brand has won six consecutive rally championships, three Dakar rallies, put the first Black rally champion on the podium and won the South African Car of the Year award two years in a row.
"Once only producing for the local automotive market, the Company has since grown to become a significant exporter to Volkswagen markets around the world. VWSA's uncompromising approach to quality has seen it become integrated into the Volkswagen global supplier network – producing cars to the same exacting standards as the other 60 Volkswagen facilities around the world. To-date we have exported more than half a million vehicles to the rest of the world since our first major order to China in 1992," said Powels.
The Company is an integral part of the global presence of the Volkswagen Group – a Group which today employs nearly 370 000 people worldwide in 60 production plants and who produce about 28 000 vehicles or are involved in vehicle-related services each day. "VWSA is the largest German investment in South Africa. Over the years we have grown into a strong, proud Company and remain a trusted Brand with a humble heart," said Powels.
Currently in South Africa, a 5 000-strong workforce produces about 600 Polo Vivo's and Polo's – the country's two top selling passenger vehicles – daily. These two vehicles have helped position VWSA as the market leader for four months of 2011.
"The Volkswagen Group has been in South Africa for 60 years, and has evolved and changed with the times. We now have to maintain our momentum, and look forward to the next 60 years," said Powels.
What's in store for the future of Volkswagen Group South Africa? "The Company's vision is to become the country's best-selling and most profitable car company, for the Uitenhage-based manufacturer to produce South Africa's best quality cars, which in turn will result in the country's most satisfied customers. For its 5 000 employees, the Company would like to see them continue upskilling themselves and be the most delighted workforce in the country," concluded Powels.
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