Yesterday I flew down from Johannesburg to Uitenhage (Kariega) in the Eastern Cape where Volkswagen was hosting its inaugural Indaba (conference). What is this Indaba all about? Obviously it is the first of more to come, annually, from the German brand, where they will be briefing the media regarding their performance in the previous year, as well as their plans for the current year.

Martina Biene, Volkswagen SA CEO, opened the Indaba with some remarks about the business in 2023. She says the 100 000th current Polo was produced in the country last year. This is a massive achievement, keeping in mind that the Polo is exported to many different countries, especially in Europe.

While the Polo gets plenty of international glory, Biene said the Polo Vivo remains the country’s best-selling Passenger Car, with 23 904 units sold in 2023, averaging 1 992 units per month. Africa, according to Biene, is the new opportunity for the automotive producers, including Volkswagen. She said the local outfit is even changing its name to Volkswagen Group Africa. The AFCFTA (free trade agreement) has been signed by 54 African countries, resulting in new opportunities. It’s the biggest free trade agreement in the world.

Electric cars also got a mention. Although these are infiltrating European markets at an accelerated rate, Mzansi still lags quite far behind. We know that some of the reasons include high prices, and expected range anxiety, especially while we continue to experience electricity blackouts called “load shedding”. That means petrol cars are still staying for some years to come, including local production.

As such, Biene reassured us that Volkswagen is not leaving Mzansi. She says the company is instead, expanding, by adding a new mystery product to be produced alongside the Polo and Polo Vivo. While this is great news, there are additional Volkswagen SA news for 2024:

• Kariega becomes one of only two Polo Plants in the world. China has their own. This means every market in the world that wants a Polo will have to source it from the Kariega Plant.

• A new Volkswagen Primary school will be launched.

This year is going to be a busy one for the Volkswagen brand in Mzansi. They have a range of new products, some of which have been confirmed as follows:

• A 222kW Amarok

• Updated T-Cross

• New Tiguan

• Updated Touareg

ID.4 electric SUV

One thing that local OEMs all mention as a major hindrance and cost to their operations is load shedding. Volkswagen itself is not immune, although several very expensive steps have been taken to minimise its impact. Unfortunately the company works with external suppliers who don’t necessarily have the capital strength to invest in anti-blackout equipment like solar panels. Therefore in the end the entire chain of supply gets affected.

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