Motor giant has faith in SA’s future

Brushing the tough trading conditions aside, Volkswagen South Africa is forging ahead with its growth plans, which could provide a vital lifeline for skilled motor industry workers in Nelson Mandela Bay.

The plans include a push into sub-Saharan African markets.

Volkswagen president and managing director Thomas Schaefer expressed strong confidence in the company’s continuing presence in the country and its growth prospects going forward.

“Right now, it’s a tough trading environment, but South Africa is a strong country and there is a lot going for it,” he said.

“If you look through all the political noise, you could see things a lot differently. I see lots of hope.”

Schaefer’s comments come as General Motors South Africa (GMSA) is in the process of winding up its Port Elizabeth and national operations.

Off-setting the substantial job losses which would have accompanied the complete GMSA exit, Isuzu’s entry as a stand-alone manufacturer will save a large portion of the jobs.

The union representing GMSA workers, the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (Numsa), has put the number of jobs at risk at 600.

Asked for his take on the withdrawal of GMSA, which was once a formidable player in the domestic vehicle market, Schaefer said: “It is a very sad story and it happened in our own neighbourhood.

“However, it was not entirely unexpected from my point of view. It’s a tough market from a profitability point of view and it’s a shrinking market.”

Questioned on potential opportunities for Volkswagen that could stem from the American carmaker’s departure, Schaefer said his company was focussed on its own growth and growth based on its product portfolio.

“We would only consider getting involved in other markets segments if it makes solid, long-term commercial sense,” he said.

However, Schaefer indirectly threw a lifeline to the skilled motor industry workers affected by GMSA’s exit.

“We need skilled employees and are always on the lookout for qualified people,” he said.

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