Driving the Economy: Coffee with VWSA MD, Thomas Schaefer

JUNE 14, 2016

Volkswagen South Africa Managing Director, Thomas Schaefer, was the keynote speaker at a coffee morning hosted by BLC Attorneys on Monday morning. His talk focused on the importance of the motor industry to the economy, South Africa, and most especially to Port Elizabeth.

Schaefer led guests through a timeline from the inception of the first VW Beetle in 1956 to 2016, where VWSA currently contributes 7% to the GDP of South Africa. The plant at Uitenhage is serviced by up to 400,000 people (employees and suppliers) and spends R2.1 billion in wages and benefits every year.

“The competency, skill level and efficiency at the Uitenhage factory is world class – South Africa is very much in the game, and is winning,” said Schaefer.

As a young man, Schaefer admitted to a love of seeing how the engine of his car worked, but raised questions of whether young people still want to work in the motor industry, at a time when services like Uber offer a taxi-like service, and autonomous driving is no longer a pipe dream.

How important is the motor industry to the economy of South Africa? Schaefer drew on the example of Australia, a country who will be out of the motor industry by next year. This will have a knock on effect when it comes to transport, the hospitality industry and other businesses, where towns will close down. This should be considered by trade unions when making wage demands and increases, where labour costs exceed CPI. VWSA sent trade union representatives to Australia to witness, first-hand, the effects not having the motor industry in the country would have.

In closing, Schaefer spoke of the improvement in the level of professionalism in South Africa from his first tenure many years ago.

“We have problems, like any other place, but if we could just stop the finger pointing, we can get there – I’m very happy to be here,” he told the group of 100 businessmen and women assembled at Elizabeth Place in Newton Park.