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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH KARL P. WILHELM, TECHNICAL MANAGING DIRECTOR OF VOLKSWAGEN BRATISLAVA

Investment leader VW talks about doing business in Slovakia

Volkswagen Bratislava's plant in Devínska Nová Ves distinguishes itself by being the only Volkswagen plant in the world that manufactures the all-wheel-drive Golf Syncro. The company, established in May of 1991, is 100% owned by Volkswagen AG. During the period from 1992 to 1994, Volkswagen invested DM 130 million in the plant, and the planned investment for 1995-96 is an additional DM 80 million. Cars started rolling off Volkswagen Bratislava's line in 1992. The plant now employs 2000 workers who are involved both in vehicle manufacture and gearbox assembly.



Volkswagen Bratislava's plant in Devínska Nová Ves distinguishes itself by being the only Volkswagen plant in the world that manufactures the all-wheel-drive Golf Syncro. The company, established in May of 1991, is 100% owned by Volkswagen AG.

During the period from 1992 to 1994, Volkswagen invested DM 130 million in the plant, and the planned investment for 1995-96 is an additional DM 80 million. Cars started rolling off Volkswagen Bratislava's line in 1992. The plant now employs 2000 workers who are involved both in vehicle manufacture and gearbox assembly.

Gearboxes have been assembled at the plant since 1994, and are bound for the worldwide Volkswagen group. Volkswagen Bratislava's production system is based on manual processes, with practically no automation. The factory's low rate of production-130 cars a day-warrants such a system.

The manual system also enhances production flexibility which is essential for manufacture of the custom-designed Syncro. Karl P. Wilhelm is Technical Managing Director of Volkswagen Bratislava. The 55-year-old Wilhelm has worked for Volkswagen for 40 years, starting as an apprentice in Germany.

Before joining Volkswagen Bratislava, he was production manager at Volkswagen's main office in Wolfsburg, Germany. Wilhelm was interviewed for The Slovak Spectator by Jeffrey A. Jones, Editor-in-Chief of the Central Europe Automotive Report.


The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Do you have any plans to expand your factory?

Wilhelm: Of course we have ideas and we have goals, but one always has to see what the market needs. We feel that we are good as a niche product producer and not a mass product producer.

Therefore, the focus right now is on the Golf Syncro. We're also looking for another niche product that would fit into our plant. In our 5-year forecast we have plans but.


TSS: What specific actions do you take to improve the local supplier base?

Wilhelm: I think we use the full range. In Nitra we do it as a sub-company. With other companies, we try to help them get connections with our central purchasing and we assist them with improving quality to reach the level needed for Volkswagen's supplier base. Right now, we have discussions between BAZ-NASKOM, a [Slovak] producer of rear axles and axle and wheel parts, and our Braunschweig, [Germany] plant.

We'll see if we can [help them start producing for] Braunschweig, if the price is right, of course. It's not yet finalized, but we are investigating possibilities. It will be an independent company, not a Volkswagen investment. In the same way we're talking with Presskam, part of the former BAZ company, and they'll be mainly looking to supply stamped parts. So it's the full range. Normally it's not direct financial involvement by Volkswagen.


TSS: I understand that one of the options available to suppliers is to set up operations on the spare land that Volkswagen has surrounding its Bratislava plant. Have any suppliers done this?

Wilhelm: There's one French company, Sommer Allibert Systemtechnik AG, that is presently on our grounds. They've been here for one year, and they are a supplier of door interiors. We look forward to possibly increasing this business by giving them one instrument panel and assembly. They handle all of the logistics and bring the parts directly to the line, to the point of assembly. This has run pretty well in its early stage. We look forward to a second company [involved] in a similar field [to locate] on our grounds, which will develop maybe by the end of the year.


TSS: What has been your biggest surprise since you started production here?

Wilhelm: One surprise for me personally [is that] we have relatively high turnover of people. This means we have ongoing training. But when you look into the total situation in this [region], it's understandable. When a company comes into Slovakia it mostly [sets up] in Bratislava, and so it's asking for people and of course it wants to get people with some experience in a company like Volkswagen, and so they pay them an even higher price sometimes. So, therefore, we have higher [turnover] than one would like to have. This is the only surprise to me.


TSS: What is your biggest transport challenge?

Wilhelm: Since last year we have set up a daily train from the Volkswagen Wolfsburg plant for the supply of parts. This train, about 25 wagons, runs on a daily schedule. This is our main supply chain. And in addition to this we have two to four lorries coming to us daily from other suppliers. We have a very stable logistic chain. We have set this up in a very short time and it runs well. Right now we have a transfer time of about 24 hours and we'll be scheduling this down to 20 hours. This also helps us to build our cars with the wide range of specification requests.

We also ship cars by boat from Bratislava to Germany. We started this four months ago. It's interesting. I thought there would be more problems but it works out well. About 20percent of our production is [sent by boat].


TSS: What's the most effective way you've streamlined your organization?

Wilhelm: To start you have to make the right budget figures, [including] the amount of cars you can build and when. That means the production program has to be made very exact, and then do everything in the plant to stick to [the program]. You have to organize your incoming parts chain. I think we have done [this]. And the rest is almost all internal discipline.

Internally, when you have your outside chain really set up like we do, it is a question of forcing the discipline. Not to build 130 units, but to build the right ones in the same day. I think we are in a stage where we can say our efforts are paying off. You can't relax because requests go higher and higher and you have to always be on top of the situation. You always have to be awake. Because tomorrow, for sure, new requests come in and if you still are working on the old ones you have no time to cover the new ones. The whole group that works here is in this alert [state]. It seems easy, but every day is really a fight. When you wake up in the morning you have to fight yourself, and you have to fight the organization and get rid of any small slips.

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