published Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

VW targets quality

  • Inside Volkswagen's paint shop
    Take a tour of Volkswagen's newest, industry-leading green paint shop at its Enterprise South facility.

About every half hour, the outer shell of a Volkswagen Passat is transformed from a dull battleship gray to a sparkling white, black, tungsten or reflex silver.

Computer-controlled robots in the paint shop of the new Chattanooga auto assembly plant spray on one of the four colors, which will double in number to eight finishes later this year.

The plant’s paint shop is methodically stepping up the number of new vehicles it’s producing with a focus on quality and the environment, officials said last week.

“Quality is always the first goal,” said Lothar Grensemann, the paint shop’s general manager.

The all-new Passat is slated to go on sale in September. High quality will be needed for the new Passat, which is seen as a keystone to VW’s plan to nearly triple annual sales in the United States to 1 million by 2018.

J.D. Power and Associates recently ranked Volkswagen 29th out of 33 brands related to how many problems buyers had in the first 90 days of ownership. Lexus topped the list David Tulis 6/30/11?? with the fewest problems, and Dodge finished last with the most.

Auto analyst Jeannine Fallon of Edmunds.com said past buyers’ disappointment with quality is a problem the carmaker has to solve.

“No marketing can solve that problem independently of actually attacking it from an engineering perspective,” she said. “Then it takes a layer of marketing to move the needle. That’s something the brand needs to overcome.”

Executives respond

That fact isn’t lost on VW executives.

Frank Fischer, chief executive of VW’s Chattanooga operations, said the auto plant is designed to incorporate the best practices from the carmaker’s more than 60 factories worldwide to make better vehicles.

The plant adopted a slogan — “passion for detail,” Fischer said. Early on, he and other top brass instituted daily test drives of Passats around the factory to give workers feedback about quality.

Michael Macht, a Volkswagen board member in charge of production, said during the plant’s grand opening in June that “quality is the most important thing that we are targeting” for the automaker’s revival in the U.S. market.

“If we do not achieve a good quality in this product, then we are really in deep trouble,” Macht said. “This is how we installed the processes here and everything we are doing with our management team and our staff is to ensure that we have a strong focus on quality.”

“Best in class”

Grensemann said that in the paint shop, training is “the main thing” as the German automaker aims to achieve “best in class quality for our cars.”

Paint shop employees have been working one shift, but this week it’s slated to start moving toward a second, Grensemann said.

“You can only ramp up when you produce day by day quality and more stable quality,” he said.

In the near future, Grensemann said, the plant will paint 233 vehicles a shift, or 31 units an hour. Currently the shop is painting about 120 vehicles per day, he said. David Tulis 6/30/11 Rather, say what the rate per shift or per hour is, for comparison.

Unique plant

Fischer said the best practices design elements of VW factories were combined with some new ideas in such a way “that I can say this plant is unique.”

The paint shop, for example, has an innovative body transport system in the pretreatment area to better fight corrosion and rust and help seal the vehicle, officials said.

The system is able to turn over a body in large bathes, permitting cleaners, solvents and sealers to reach every corner and use less material at the same time, Grensemann said.

Also, he said the paint shop is the first in the world to put into effect a dry scrubber system that produces no liquid paint sludge in the plant. In the new method, air is used and reused and filtered through limestone, which is then sent to the cement industry and turned into concrete, Fischer said.

Estimated water savings are 50,000 gallons per day, according to Fischer. Over the course of a year, savings will equal 12.5 million gallons, he said.

Jonathan Browning, CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, said last month in Chattanooga that quality has been “a tremendous focus right from the beginning.”

Surveys satisfying

Browning points to the Consumer Reports consumer satisfaction surveys which showed the highest rating for the VW Golf TDI among U.S. customers.

“Over 90 percent said they would buy that vehicle again,” Browning said. “So I think you can look at different sources of information and interpret them in somewhat different ways. At the same time, we take the J.D. Power reports very seriously and are addressing some of the issues in terms of what I would call the execution of some of the functionality of the vehicle for the U.S. market.”

Temperature controls for heating and air conditioning have been altered to better suit the American market and the Bluetooth technology has been added to offer better wireless services, Browning said.

“It’s the first time you are seeing a German-engineered vehicle in this midsized sedan segment that is really affordable,” Browning said. “We’re seeing sales momentum today that is founded upon strong products, strength in brand and quality performance.”

Staff writer Dave Flessner contributed to this story.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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esthercrowl said...

High quality will be needed for the new Passat, which is seen as a keystone to VW’s plan to nearly triple annual sales in the United States to 1 million by 2018. higher gas prices? where can you get money for gas? there are several secrets to auto insurance industry, If you have good credit, you'll pay less. check out "Auto Insurance Clearance" for more secrets

July 3, 2011 at 1:39 a.m.
Astropig said...

V-Dub TALKS a good game on quality,but ,(as many unhappy ex owners will tell you) it's all just talk. I don't care where they are made, I wouldn't buy a new VW on a bet. Any mechanic will tell you that buying one out of warranty means that you're making a down payment on years of expensive repairs.The article above talks about paint quality and to a lesser degree ,overall fit and finish,but thats not what has hurt VW. It's bad wiring,oil leaks, overheating and punitive heating and ventilation systems.If they don't fix those problems,it won't matter what the cars look like.

July 4, 2011 at 5:50 p.m.

Well they make it sound good, Astropig. I drove an old model VW bug into the ground and put little, if any, money into it, so they can't be all bad.

July 5, 2011 at 12:01 p.m.
Astropig said...

"Well they make it sound good, Astropig. I drove an old model VW bug into the ground and put little, if any, money into it, so they can't be all bad."

The VW Beetle was a good car . Thats not what I am referencing. ( Any car that spanned 5 decades is a winner). The problem is that VW has been living on the Bug's reputation for too long.They need to build a "no excuses" car that can compete with anything from Toyota or Honda. Thats a tall order.Frankly, I think that they are too arrogant to do it. In the past, quality issues were blamed on American drivers.(Mercedes does this also BTW),but there are far too few VW owners that see that odometer pass the 200,000 mile mark.

July 5, 2011 at 12:10 p.m.
lifeisgood said...

I believe that people, especially those who live in the chattanooga area, should give the new passat a chance. VW has made a large investment in our community, and I feel that we owe it to them to at least offer a little support. I myself have two volkswagens, a newer model Jetta and a 90's model Jetta. I love both of them, and have had no issues out of either one. I know that everyone has had experiences with cars, both good and bad, but it seems that VW always gets a bad reputation. I have found that once a person drives a Volkswagen, they begin to understand the passion that VW drivers have. By the way, Honda V6 cars have transmission issues, and Toyota has its share of oversights too. Judge Volkswagen for yourself. Go drive one and see what you think. If you like it great, buy one and support the local economy.

July 5, 2011 at 6:32 p.m.
YagamiLight said...

If Volkswagen is targeting quality then first thing they have to do is ensure the safety of their consumers in driving their cars. For me safety means quality. Install some parts that can achieve this. Like good brakes, seat belts and air bags.

September 22, 2011 at 2:12 a.m.
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