VW South Africa’s local factory has produced more than 4 million vehicles since it was first opened, and it has changed significantly over the decades.
We have detailed the timeline of the facility’s evolution and its impressive expansion.
The 20.2-hectare site for the factory, which lies on the outskirts of Uitenhage, was purchased by SAMAD (South African Motor Assemblers and Distributors) in October 1946 for R2,500.
SAMAD 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.
The first Studebaker was produced by the factory in 1948, despite the facility only being partially complete, and in 1949 the factory officially opened with 320 employees and production volumes of 14 to 16 units per day.
A total of 977 Studebakers were delivered to dealers during the first year of the factory’s operation.
Within the first two years, the factory had added Austin vehicles and Volkwagen vehicles to its lineup.
The first locally assembled Volkswagen Beetle left the production line in 1951, and in 1955 the Austin Motors contract ended and the facility began to assemble Volkswagen’s Transporter range.
Volkswagen took a controlling interest in SAMAD in 1956 and invested R1 million in an expansion for the factory, raising its production capacity from 42 to 75 units per day.
A new Paint Shop was opened in 1958, which contained the biggest dip tank in the Southern hemisphere at the time – 45,500 litres.
Production ramps up
By January 1959, the factory had produced a total of 25,000 Volkswagen vehicles. This number doubled just a year later in 1960, when the 50,000th Volkswagen vehicle left the production line.
In November 1963, the 100,000th Volkswagen vehicle left the production line – a Beetle.
The next year, SAMAD announced plans to invest R8 million in an Engine Plant and Press Shop, and these became operational in 1965, when the Studebaker corporation closed and production of Studebaker vehicles ceased in Uitenhage.
Volkswagen announced in 1970 that it would undertake a R25-million expansion programme over the next five years, comprising building a new paint shop and assembly hall, expanding the press shop, extending the manufacturing hall, and building an administration block for technical staff.
The first phase of this expansion was completed in 1972, improving production capacity to 300. At this point, an additional 96 hectares were purchased for future expansion.
In 1974, VWSA became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Volkswagenwerk AG. The company changed its name to Volkswagen of South Africa (Pty) Ltd.
Expansion and innovation
The new R15-million engine plant with a daily capacity of 260 engines was opened in 1981, and in 1983, a R200-million expansion was announced for the production of the Golf 2.
The 1-millionth vehicle to be manufactured at the Uitenhage plant left the production line in 1986, with the 1-millionth Volkswagen rolling off the line the next year.
As part of its continued expansion, Volkswagen purchased the old Ford site in Port Elizabeth in 1992. In 2001, the company said it would invest R1-billion in the Eastern Cape over four years.
A R750-million Paint Shop was opened at the Uitenhage plant in 2006, with President Thabo Mbeki present at the opening ceremony.
Construction began on a new press shop in February 2011, and this shop became operational in mid-2012.
In 2014 and 2015, VWSA’s paint shop introduced cutting-edge technology to improve painting efficiency and quality – namely the Bell electrostatic technique, and automated robot technology for interior painting.
In January 2018, Volkswagen launched its new Polo and showcased the R6.1-billion investment in its plant and new products. Later that year, the factory would produce its 1-millionth EA111 engine.
At this point, the plant ramped up production of VW Polo vehicles, with the 200,000th unit leaving the line in September 2019.
A new record for single-month production volumes was set by the factory in October 2019, with 16,453 vehicles leaving the line in a single month.
At the beginning of 2020, the 200,000th Polo for the export market left the production line and in November 2020 the plant reached a significant milestone – a grand total of 4 million vehicles have been manufactured at the factory to date.
Images of the VWSA factory in Uitenhage through the years are shown below.