Passing the grade. Quality controllers examine the latest Golf to be assembled in Devínská Nová Ves.
Courtesy of Volkswagen
There are several reasons for this breakneck development pace, according to Kurt Wilhelm, Technical Director of Volkswagen Bratislava spol. s.r.o. "Volkswagen cars are very popular in the world right now," said Wilhelm. "VW has been very well received by the market. When the VW group's top management were looking where to place the increase in production, Bratislava caught their eye. Our figures have always been in the black, and we have proven we can maintain a very good quality level."
Wilhelm proudly showed off the latest results of an internal quality survey carried out by the Volkswagen group. According to the survey, the Bratislava plant placed number one. The investigation consisted of an internal audit, measuring failures per unit and digesting feedback from customers.
When the results were tabulated in terms of size, Bratislava still came out number three.
With the new assembly line and a brand new body shop for the Golf Syncro, which opened last year, they will be able to meet their ambitious target for 1998.
Until last year, the Bratislava plant manufactured both Passats and Golfs, but since January they produce only the Golf. This is actually the only place in the world were the Golf Syncro is manufactured. VW Bratislava also produces other versions of the Golf such as the Variant, as well as gearboxes and other components. 97 percent of cars are exported, as well as gearboxes and components.
Kurt Wilhelm, Technical Director of Volkswagen Bratislava.
Courtesy of Volkswagen
"Volkswagen Bratislava is a good example of a successful foreign investor in the Slovak Republic," said Barto. "They could influence other Slovak suppliers. In general they are doing quite well."
In February, Volkswagen Bratislava implemented a four shift system. The factory is now running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If the increase in production continues, which Wilhelm believes will be the case, the plant will have to expand further. Wilhelm has already started negotiations with the Slovak government on future investments.
Volkswagen Bratislava purchases goods within the country last year worth 1.4 billion Sk ($40 million), but machinery for new factories must be imported.
"We are conducting ongoing discussions with the government about the customs duty," said Wilhelm.
One big obstacle to expansion is finding quality new employees. Today, 4,044 people work at the Bratislava plant, and this year should be joined by another 600 people. According to Wilhelm, it is getting more and more difficult to find good people.
"With an unemployment rate of about 3 percent [in Bratislava] and a massive concentration of new companies in Bratislava, it is very difficult to find people, both workers and engineers," said Wilhelm. "Engineers are especially difficult to find. And it is also very difficult to make them stay with the company."
Wilhelm expressed frustration with some of today's young people. "A lot of young people are so impatient," he said. "They want to be managers right away, even though they come directly from university. I often try to tell them to have patience, they need on the job training and should look at their long term opportunities. We are a big, stable company. Other companies might offer a very high salary, car and secretary but who knows for how long these companies will last."
Precious commodity. Skilled laborers such as these are increasingly scarce in Bratislava, hindering Volkswagen's ambitious expansion program.
Courtesy of Volkswagen
Starting up a new factory somewhere else in Slovakia has been considered, but it is not likely to happen soon. There are simply too many disadvantages, say VW officials. Skilled people are more easily found in Bratislava, and high quality standards more easy to guarantee close to the relatively developed infrastructure of the capital. Since there is plenty of space left in Devínská Nova Ves, any added production will probably be located there.
Compared to other Volkswagen companies, Volkswagen Bratislava does not employ many expatriates - only about 20 people, mostly from Germany. They come to Slovakia with special knowledge when a new model is introduced to train local staff.
"The main question for the expatriates, besides the work itself, is how well they can transfer knowledge," said Wilhelm. "When we started our business here seven years ago we had a very young staff, not so experienced. This meant that we could train them from the beginning and it has been successful. We have continued to hire young people with good basic knowledge, they are both willing and able to learn."
Volkswagen started its business in Slovakia as part of the Volkswagen-Škoda deal signed with former Czechoslovakia. Then, back in 1991, during negotiations with the Czechoslovak government about Škoda, Volkswagen announced it wanted to cooperate with BAZ (Bratislava Car Company). It started as a 20-80 percent partnership with VW as the major owner. Today Volkswagen AG owns the whole company.