Driving change in the automotive industry

As part of their initiative to be the most ecologically sustainable car company in the world, Volkswagen Group South Africa has a number of projects that align with national and international betterment objectives. 

“In 2010, the group began discussions about sustainability. The board in Germany decided that sustainability is actually going to be a business imperative. And if we don’t position ourselves globally as the most environmentally friendly brand in the world, we will lose potential business” Nico Serfontein, Paint Shop Head Divisions at VWSA, says. 

They set their overall aim high: to achieve a full 25% reduction in their environmental impact numbers by 2018. 

Considering that the 25% reduction is calculated per vehicle, VWSA have their work cut out. To drive the process, head office created Think Blue.Factory, an internal group that will drive innovation to ensure that the greening objectives are not just met, but set the path for other companies to follow. 

To this end they have pioneered a number of ways to reduce consumption and waste. But before any of this could happen, they needed to plan. 

“In migration workshops, we looked at the migration path. How will we get to 2018, how will we achieve 25% and what does it involve? Staff needed to be involved from the beginning.” 

The first innovation to make waves — literally — was the installation of a new system at their Uitenhage plant. This technology uses a “striking cobra” wave motion to move the system: “The brake energy of the presses is used for acceleration of the next press, resulting in a 25% to 30% saving.” That saving converts to 1282 mwH a year and a carbon reduction of 1 316 tonnes of CO2 a year. Uitenhage were also the first to test a new nozzle that doubles the amount of base coat sprayed onto the car, thereby reducing the amount of solvents emitted into the air. 

Reducing 5.3 tonnes of waste, 3.4 tonnes of harmful solvents and a reduction of 549 mwH a year, this green innovation is a game-changer in base coat application methods. The factory also saves on the amount of ventilation needed per booth. 

All energy is measured through metering points. Managers attend monthly meetings where their results are reviewed. If there are any issues, they are dealt with immediately. If the results are due to inefficiency, managers “have to explain their plans for the target and how they will get there. There’s pressure to do it well”.

Going forward, in keeping with the new Think.Blue protocol, when necessary, factories that need to be updated will either be refurbished or rebuilt. 

The factories will then be in line with the new environmentally friendly standards, and will contribute to a cleaner automotive industry. 

“Think.Blue gets a lot of investment and support from the board. We get funding approved even if it doesn’t necessarily have a payback. Because it’s a pillar of the business strategy, we get to invest in the future.”

Think.Blue will now also be launched for dealerships, in consultation with suppliers and with customers. 

“We also need to promote good driving. If someone drives like a maniac, they undo some of the good work we’ve been trying to do.”