Nearly a year ago, Volkswagen Philippines shocked the market when it introduced some unfamiliar nameplates such as the Santana, Lavida, and, Lamando. Their shock and surprise are justified as we were always exposed with more popular nameplates such as the Polo, Jetta, Golf, and Passat; successful global nameplates at that.
These new models come from China, where Volkswagen makes them with JV partner SAIC in Anting, Shanghai. The reason being was a more favorable free trade agreement between ASEAN and China that levies import duties for vehicles made in the People's Republic. Being a similar left-hand-drive market, the Philippines greatly benefits from this.
There are many who are still apprehensive about owning a Chinese-made VW, and the reason isn't too hard to understand. Volkswagen is German; a company from a country with a reputation for producing high-quality stuff. But Chinese cars don't exactly have a fantastic reputation worldwide, what with copied designs and the many testimonials about the low build quality of Chinese automobiles, particularly for safety.
But here's something to keep in mind: it matters not where a car is made, what matters most is who makes it. And a Volkswagen made anywhere in the world will always be a Volkswagen, and that means it will be developed, designed, and engineered to the company's high tolerances for quality and safety.
The Lavida was actually the best-selling car in China last year with over 500,000 units sold. And these cars aren’t the “Chinese cars” that you think you know or heard about. These are real Volkswagen models that are built in Volkswagen factories.
No matter where a Volkswagen is produced, it follows the same global standard for each vehicle that rolls out of their factories. That may sound nice and assuring, but Volkswagen Philippines made sure we saw it ourselves with a visit to the SAIC Volkswagen plant in Shanghai and show us how they're made.
This being the fourth auto manufacturing plant I have visited in China, it was not much of a surprise that they can roll out quality cars there. But what did impress me was 6 processes that Volkswagen implements at all their factories -China included- to ensure that every car that wears the VW badge speaks of the utmost in quality.
First of these processes is the selection of material. All VW cars start with a 100% galvanized steel body. That means that every Volkswagen body has steel that has optimal resistance to metal corrosion. Rust, as we know, is the cancer of cars.
Second is laser welding. VW is considered as one of the pioneers in laser welding of automotive structures, something that they have been doing since the early 1990s. The process of seamlessly laser welding the roof to the body not only protects against leaks and does away with black roof strips to hide the welds, but also provides better production precision and gives a better torsional rigidity to the cars as well.
Third is the use of robotic assistance, particularly with measuring. This process helps make sure that every panel of the body is within specifications. A “zero error body” means a rigid and compact car that should feel like new for years.
Fourth is a system of pre-treating and electrocoating called RoDip; quite literally, Volkswagen dips the car bodies into a tank of anti-corrosion chemicals. They do this by affixing the bodies onto a special turntable and dipped in the tank by rotating them 180-degrees from the horizontal axis perpendicular to the conveyor direction. This process is more efficient, economical and is more environmentally friendly as it requires a smaller tank volume compared to conventional pendulum conveyor systems.
Fifth is a major enhancement to safety: the steel crossbars. Doors are often the most vulnerable spots in a collision, and so every Volkswagen comes equipped with strong steel crossbars inside the doors. This absorbs the force in case of a side impact, gives strength to the structure and ensures that the impact is not transferred to passengers.
And lastly is the final painting and protection process. Every Volkswagen car undergoes a unique 11-stage preparation process of chemicals and paints. This entire procedure ensures stone chip resistance, color adhesion, UV protection, and anti-corrosion.
VW's models made at any VW factory will replicate those six unique processes to give customers the best possible vehicle for the price. While assembling different components such as the engine and interior parts are pretty much similar among automakers, but the devil is in the details. And VW’s unique body-making processes to make sure their cars don’t rust, squeak, twist, and fade are what sets VW apart.
In Asia, VW has 33 production plants spread across China, India, Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand; the total output of which is 4.3 million units annually. China alone accounts for 23 plants and 4.1 million units.
Being the more inquisitive and curious folk that we are at AutoIndustriya.com, we also did a little tour on our own to a local showroom. Just a few doors from the Tesla showroom on Madang Road in Xintiandi, an upscale area in the center of Shanghai, was the Qiantu Motor showroom. We skipped Tesla and went for a ‘local experience’ instead.
For the unfamiliar, Qiantu is a relatively new brand which officially debuted as China’s “first supercar” at the 2015 Auto Shanghai. Their very first model is an EV supercar called the K50 which is available in both coupe and roadster form.
And an experience it definitely was, the 2-story boutique features a one-car showroom below and a library/bookshop and café above. It had a very modern design and upscale elements that would actually make you think you were in Europe instead.
Surely people will have different opinions of China and Chinese-made cars and it all changes when you actually go there and have an objective view of the modern cities and state-of-the-art factories without any cloud of judgment and politics.