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TECH: Volkswagen targets Sub-Sahara

One car likely to benefit is the Volkswagen Polo

By Motoring Guru

The German car maker, Volkswagen, has launched a Sub-Saharan Africa region to develop and strengthen the African market. Sub-Saharan Africa is a geographical term used to describe the area of the African continent which lies south of the Sahara.

The move is in line with the Volkswagen brand’s regionalisation strategy. It is being billed as “the next logical step in the Volkswagen brand’s strategy to position itself in focus areas”. The Sub-Saharan region is fourth Volkswagen region and joins the North America, South America and China regions.

The region will be headed by Thomas Schäfer, Chairman and Managing Director of Volkswagen Group South Africa. Organisational details will be elaborated in the coming weeks. Sub-Sahara comprises of 49 states and has a total population of some 920 million.

Commenting on the reasons for the brand’s engagement in Africa, Schäfer said: “Africa is still one of the blank spots on the Volkswagen map”.

Schäfer explained that Volkswagen feels there is enormous potential in the Sub-Saharan region to meet the mobility needs of a burgeoning middle class.

“We will drive forward the development of these new markets in cooperation with various African governments – and gradually strengthen and expand the new Sub-Saharan Africa region,” he said.

The Volkswagen brand currently has three operations in the region: the company has been building cars in South Africa since 1951. Vehicle assembly began in Nigeria in 2015, with assembly in Kenya getting underway in December 2016.

In addition, Volkswagen plans to launch an integrated mobility concept in Rwanda at the end of this year. The concept provides for app-based mobility solutions such as car sharing and ride hailing.

For this purpose, an environmentally compatible local vehicle production facility is to be established in the capital city Kigali to cover vehicle demand for the integrated mobility concept.

One car likely to benefit from Volkswagen’s renewed interest in Sub-Saharan Africa is the Volkswagen Polo.

This Volkswagen is a superminis; a small version of VW’s popular and respected family hatch, the Golf. In terms of exterior, the latest Polo is quite to the Golf. It looks upmarket in appearance, especially its modified lights and trim. It is equally popular for offering refinement and quality levels that are higher than the sector average and at more accessible asking prices.

It boasts great infotainment on large screen and a comprehensive mechanical upgrade.  Latest versions have switched to three-cylinder engines; petrol (1.0) and diesel (1.2). That is a cylinder drop each. The newer models have advanced collision avoidance systems.

According to one reviewer, “the combined effect further enhances the car’s desirability if you’re seeking a small car delivering Golf-like levels of refinement and quality”.

According to the global motor vehicle sales monitoring website focus2move.com, the Volkswagen Polo is the second highest selling car in Africa based on 2015 figures. The year before the Volkswagen Polo had sold more cars than the Toyota Hilux in Africa. According to the 2015 figures, the only other car that has higher sales is the Toyota Hilux pick-up. Other top selling names include Ford Ranger in three, Dacia Logan in four, the Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Accent, Chevrolet TFR Single cab, Renault Clio, Renault Symbol, and Hyundai Verna. From its plant at Uitenhage in Eastern Cape, Volkswagen has been producing cars mainly for countries which use right-hand drive.

Thomas Schäfer is an engineer who began his career with Volkswagen AG in 2012 as Head of Group Production (Foreign plants). Prior to joining Volkswagen, he held senior management posts at Daimler AG in South Africa and Malaysia.  Since February 2015 he has been heading the Volkswagen Group South Africa.

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