The Russian automotive market is booming. And Volkswagen is enjoying healthy growth with vehicles built on a full production line in Russia. Vladislav Cheburkov, a project manager in the Quality Assurance department, gives us a tour of the Volkswagen plant in Kaluga. His job is to ensure an uncompromisingly high standard of quality.
NOTHING BUT THE BEST – Vladislav Cheburkov, project manager in the Quality Assurance department of the Volkswagen plant in Kaluga, Russia.
The Russian provincial capital of Kaluga lies 160 kilometers southwest of Moscow on the Oka River and is home to some 350,000 people. The interpreter who accompanies foreign visitors on tours of the city presents Kaluga’s architecture in distinctly political terms. And so we have the monumental theater square from the “Stalinist era,” the hastily constructed concrete-slab apartment blocks: “Khrushchev,” the self-contained market hall: “Brezhnev,” the diversity of goods now offered there: “Putin.” The economic convergence of world markets spelt the beginning of a new era, shaped by globalization: The “Volkswagen” era.
In November 2007, Volkswagen opened its automotive plant located just outside the city limits, initially as an assembly plant for vehicle kits. Today, with a full production line, a workforce of 4,200 people is responsible for an output of up to 150,000 vehicles a year. For Kaluga, “Volkswagen” has ushered in a new era, summed up by Deputy Governor Maxim Akimov in neat statistical terms: “Our unemployment rate is currently just 1.1 percent.”
THE “VOLKSWAGEN” FLAGSHIP PROJECT
The roads, once riddled with potholes, are freshly tarmacked, and restaurants and bars cater for a wide cross-section of tastes, from pasta to sushi. Dozens of hotels have sprung up, and the new supermarkets are open 24/7. “Volkswagen,” says Akimov, “is a flagship project for us.” Since Volkswagen set up shop in the region, other foreign carmakers and suppliers have followed suit, creating what Akimov terms an “automotive cluster.”
Russia is making intensive efforts to extend its value chain, as most of its GDP still comes from energy and raw materials. Because of this, Russian society wants to re-establish once proud industries such as aerospace, automotive production and shipbuilding. No mean feat, given that the production processes that held sway during the Soviet Union era are now completely outdated.
“The old Russian automobile manufacturers used to produce virtually everything under one roof, right down to the rubber on the windshield wipers,” explains Dr. Walter Jürgen Schmid, who was German ambassador in Moscow until spring 2010. “In modern Western automotive production, vertical integration is perhaps ten or 15 percent, with the rest being sourced from external specialists.” Schmid, who was instrumental in cutting through the red tape and thus clearing the way for German investment in Russia, smiles as he thinks back: “Incidentally, this resulted in my becoming something of a production expert.”
At the same time, when it comes to quality, the expectations of Russian car buyers are every bit as high as their Western counterparts. Up until now, the Russian market has been dominated by imported vehicles. After all, Russia’s past experience with homegrown cars was somewhat less than satisfying. This is set to change: “Our aim is to make Russian-built Volkswagens synonymous with high quality,” vows Marcus Osegowitsch, new General Director of VW Group Rus. Accordingly, a whole phalanx of specialists is working to ensure that Volkswagen’s quality standards, which are uniformly high all over the world, are met in Russia as well. Quite a challenging task, given that Kaluga’s production line is used for four different models: the Škoda Fabia, Škoda Octavia, Volkswagen Tiguan and the new Volkswagen Polo Sedan.
Specially designed for the Russian market, the Polo Sedan has been produced in Kaluga since mid-2010. Vladislav Cheburkov was closely involved at each stage of this process. When the first vehicles were delivered, he and his colleagues journeyed to even the remotest areas of Russia so that they could respond immediately if dealers or customers experienced any problems. This required him to spend a number of weeks in Chelyabinsk, a city on the Ural River some 2,000 kilometers away from Kaluga. “Every morning, we held a video conference with the specialists at the plant,” recounts Cheburkov in fluent German.