The First Polo Rolls-Off The Volkswagen Pune Plant
Pune has been at the forefront of automobile industry in India for over half a century. Thus today it quite befitting that Europe’s largest automaker, started production of its most popular small car, from arguably their most advanced manufacturing facility in the world, at Chakan Pune.
I was fortunate to visit the Chakan Plant on this important occasion. Got a chance to tour their impressive assembly facility, and also attend the official media briefing by the Volkswagen Management. The Press was there in big numbers, and I am sure there will be a lot of coverage about this event and the new car in the days to come. The VW Polo, while new to India, has been one of the most popular models for Volkswagen over the years. While the original Beetle was the ‘People’s Car’ many decades back, the ‘Polo’ has been in that league for the past couple of decades in Europe. (Note – The Indian market is familiar with Polo’s sister car, the Skoda Fabia, which is also assembled at the same Plant). The Polo will be formally launched in India at the Delhi Auto Show next month, and is expected to be available to customers by middle of 2010.
The Polo is quite compact and should fit in quite well in the small car segment in India. The design seems a little conservative compared to some of its other peers in the category such as Honda Jazz, Hyundai i20 and Fiat Punto. The interior feels quite nice and the controls and steering are very comfortable. (VW, like the other large automakers, has standardized many controls (e.g. turning indicator stick,light switches, etc.) across multiple models. Hence for someone like me who has owned other VW cars, these controls feel very familiar). Of course, the real test of a car is when driven – hence its difficult to comment a whole lot at this point of time. But given VW’s legacy, and the reviews I have read from Europe, it would be fair to say that it would be a fun car to drive! A lot also depends on which engine variants VW India finally ends up supporting for this car.
However, yesterday’s star attraction for me was not the Polo Car, but the Plant facility. As I mentioned earlier, this facility is one of the most sophisticated Plants in the world and has been built with an investment of over 800 Million Dollars (580 Million Euros). Spread over a land expanse of 550 acres in Chakan MIDC, the factory building itself occupies nearly 30 acres. The facility is designed to produce 110,000 cars per year, once it gets to full capacity. The plant can be reconfigured easily to produce different variants/models. The level of automation is impressive. Presently VW plans to manufacture the Skoda Fabia (production started earlier this year), the VW Polo, and a new Salon Car (to be launched in the 2nd half of 2010). This massive facility was built in a record 17 months. This Plant supports the entire manufacturing process from the press shop, through body and paint shops, to final assembly. Many local vendors have been identified for supplying various parts and sub-assemblies. Initially, the Polo manufactured at the Chakan Plant will have around 50% localization. However this is expected to get to 80% eventually.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I am a big VW fan, having owned their vehicles for the better part of this decade!
Image Credit: Volkswagen Press-Kit
Volkswagen India Website: http://www.volkswagen.co.in/in/en.html
Wikipedia Entry of the Polo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkswagen_Polo
For a terrific collection of photos by Ritesh Madhok, of the VW Polo from this event, take a look at: http://indianautosblog.com/2009/12/images-and-information-vw-polo-production-commences