VW South Africa’s factory in Uitenhage has produced over 4 million vehicles since its was founded 72 years ago.
Production initially began in November 1948, when the plant was owned by South African Motor Assemblers and Distributors (SAMAD).
It was established following a franchise agreement between the South African company Industrial and Commercial Holdings and the Studebaker Export Corporation being signed for the local assembly of Studebaker cars and commercial vehicles.
“In line with this agreement, SAMAD is launched and a 20.2-hectare site is bought for the factory on the outskirts of Uitenhage for R2,500,” said VW.
Despite the factory only being partially complete, the first Studebaker rolled off the production line that November.
The factory then officially opened in February 1949 – with 320 employees and production volumes of 14-16 units per day.
Following a new agreement being signed in 1949 with Austin Motors of England, SAMAD added Austin vehicles to its production line-up.
The factory produced 1,644 Studebakers and 2,269 Austins that year.
It was only in August 1951, however, that the first Volkswagen vehicle to be manufactured in Uitenhage was completed – a Volkswagen Beetle.
The Beetle was produced after SAMAD and Volkswagenwerk in Germany signed an agreement for the production of the car in July of that year.
Austin contract ends
In 1955, the contract with Austin Motors then came to an end and production of Volkswagen’s Transporter range began.
The following year, VW stepped up and took a controlling interest in SAMAD and announced a R1-million expansion that included a new paint shop and parts store.
This expansion raised the production capacity of the factory from 42 to 75 units per day.
In January of 1959, VW reached a significant milestone in South Africa – with the 25,000th Volkswagen vehicle leaving its production line.
It did not take long for this number to double, and in 1960 VW marked the 50,000th Volkswagen vehicle leaving the production line.
In November of 1963, the 100,000th VW vehicle – fittingly, a Beetle – made its way off the production line.
The years ahead would see even more investment and expansion taking place at the VW plant, with a new engine plant and press shop becoming operational in 1964.
In 1966, a SAMAD shareholders meeting made the decision to change the company name to Volkswagen of South Africa Limited, and four years later VW announced a new R25-million expansion programme over five years.
It was in 1974 that VW South Africa then became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Volkswagenwerk AG – and changed its name to Volkswagen of South Africa (Pty) Ltd.
A R1-billion investment
The next 20 years saw a rapid expansion and investment programme by VW, including a new R15-million engine plant being opened in 1981 and a R200-million expansion effort in preparation for the production of the Golf 2.
VW would go on to mark the 1-millionth Volkswagen vehicle leaving its production line in 1987.
In 1992, more expansion plans were in action and VW purchased the old Ford site in Neave, Port Elizabeth, to assist with exporting the Jetta to China.
Nine years later in 2001, VW announced it would invest R1-billion into the Eastern Cape over four years – which would include upgrades to manufacturing facilities, new product development, and other projects.
A further R750-million was invested into a new paint shop, which was opened in December 2006.
Many, many Polos
The 2000s saw new technologies introduced by VW at its factory in Uitenhage, including electrostatic painting techniques and advanced automated robot technology.
This was complemented by a R6.1-billion investment in its plant and new products, and the launch of the new Polo.
October 2019 also saw a production record being reached, with 16,453 vehicles manufactured in one month – at an average of 530 cars per day.
Since its first Beetle was built in 1951, VW has produced a wide range of vehicles in South Africa – including the Kombi, Golf, Jetta, and Polo – along with Audi vehicles.
The Uitenhage plant currently manufactures the Polo for local and export markets, as well as the Polo Vivo for the local market.
Since the start of 2020 [to November], the plant has produced 75,521 Polos for export, as well as 12,804 Polos and 17,038 Polo Vivos for the local market.