As that famous People Logo advert alluded to all those years ago, Volkswagen prides itself on doing more than just building cars in the town of Kariega, formerly Uitenhage.
We got to find that out for ourselves on a visit to the Eastern Cape plant this week, where German executives danced like they were in Africa and introduced us to their future plans and strategies.
This was perhaps a show of confidence, given global CEO Thomas Schafer’s warnings about the plant’s future viability last year.
Yet the feeling we got at this week’s “Volkswagen Indaba” was that the local division is committed to making the local operation work.
Honoured by the Top Employer Institute for 13 years running, the Volkswagen SA directly employs almost 4,000 people, with around 20,000 supported through the value chain.
The Polo was South Africa’s top vehicle export in 2023 (see the full list here), with 101,468 units shipped abroad, and the company plans to add at least 10,000 to that number this year as it becomes the world’s sole producer of Polo hatchbacks for export markets.
VWSA went as far as spending R130 million on back-up generators to compensate for the government’s load shedding failures.
But the plant is facing another existential crisis down the line. European exports, which currently account for around 70% of the local facility’s output, will dry up towards the end of the decade as the Polo is being discontinued.
Further to that it seems Europe has more than sufficient capacity to produce the electric models that will replace it.
Renewed focus on Africa
For that reason VWSA will focus its attention on the African continent. In fact from this week it began trading as Volkswagen Group Africa. Although this is still a relatively small and underdeveloped market, Volkswagen predicts that sales on the continent will triple to around three million units annually by 2030.
A focus on Africa also means building products that are suited to the continent, which brings us neatly to the “third product” that VWSA is planning to build at its local plant in Kariega.
Unfortunately the company was not in a position to officially announce it at this week’s Indaba event, but the contagiously enthusiastic VWSA CEO Martina Biene spoke about it as if it was very much on the cards.
Biene said the new model, which was planned for around 2026 or 2027, was an “SUV type” product that would slot beneath the T-Cross. It is an internal combustion engined model based on the same MQB-27 platform as the current Polo, which will make it easy to integrate into the current assembly operation.
We also heard whisperings that a half-tonne bakkie was under consideration for South Africa, likely at a later date than the aforementioned third product. If this happened it wouldn’t be the current Saveiro bakkie from Brazil, but rather its replacement model which was confirmed this week as part of a $1.8 billion (R34bn) investment in the company’s Brazilian division.
Alas, we are getting quite far in the future here.
What to expect in 2024
Volkswagen also used the “2024 Indaba” to reveal three new products that will be coming our way in the second half this year.
These are the all-new Tiguan as well as facelifted versions of the T-Cross and Touareg. No mention was made of the facelifted Golf 8.5 GTI, apart from a rather vague “watch this space” when asked about it, meaning GTI fans will likely have to wait until 2025.
The all-new Tiguan boasts a smoother design inspired by the ID.4 electric crossover. LED headlights will be standard, and high-definition Matrix lights will be optional.
Unlike the current version, a fully digital interior (check it out in the video above) will be fitted to every Tiguan model sold locally. This includes a digital instrument cluster, which is joined by a Tesla-like MIB4 central touchscreen measuring 12.9 inches (32cm) in its standard configuration, with a 15-inch (38cm) unit being optional.
Also due in the second half of 2024 is the facelifted Volkswagen Touareg, boasting revised front and rear styling and like its smaller sibling, offering HD Matrix headlights as an option.
The Touareg’s cabin has been updated too, offering more standard features including an improved voice control system and electronic driver aids such as Travel Assist, Trailer Assist and Night Vision.
The revised SUV will be fitted with the 190kW 3.0-litre TDI turbodiesel engine, paired with an eight-speed automatic gearbox and 4Motion all-wheel drive.
At the other end of the SUV line-up, the T-Cross is getting a facelift too, now offering LED Matrix headlights and vibey new exterior colours such as Grape Yellow, Kings Red Metallic and Clear Blue Metallic.
Inside there’s a new free-standing infotainment system (8.0 inches as standard, 9.2 inches optional) and a digital instrument cluster will now come as standard.
More range and specification details, including pricing, will be released later in the year.