By Lou Ann Hammond, Mon, 28 Aug 2006 08:00:00 PDT
July 24,2006, Auburn, CA - It's 108 degrees today, the ninth day in a row of temperatures over 100. It is a fire waiting to happen outside. Your nostril hairs burn as you open the door to the inferno, I mean outdoors. It's hard to believe that just last week I was in Lisbon, Portugal, 82 degrees, driving a Volkswagen EOS convertible, with the top down. Lisbon, Portugal, where 30 minutes before we finished our drive we realized we hadn't put the top up and tried the air conditioning. Yes, a world away.
The factory is located a short ways from Lisbon, Portugal in a little town called Palmela. Palmela is better known for its wine than its automobiles, hosting the annual Palmela wine fest. I took a tour of the Autoeuropa Volkswagen plant, where the EOS is being produced, with Carmo Jardim, Public and Governmental Affairs manager, Autoeuropa Volkswagen. Jardim talked about the history of the plant. It took seven years for Ford and Volkswagen to get approval and production of the plant through the Portuguese government. In 1995 production of the Volkswagen Sharan and the Ford Galaxy started with the SEAT Alhambra starting production in 1996. In 1999 Volkswagen took over 100 percent ownership of Autoeuropa from Ford.
The Galaxy is no longer produced at Autoeuropa, but the EOS is stepping right in and taking its spot. Production in this plant is about jobs for Portugal. Jardim's office put together the numbers that matter from 1995-2005. The GDP of Portugal, represented by Autoeuropa was 1.6 percent in 2004 and Autoeuropa represented 5 percent of the nations exports. Those are big numbers when you consider that this was done with less than 3,000 people and production of 95,660 units when the capacity is 160,000.
According to Mario Rodriguez, the lean machine goes all the way to the individual teams on the line. Just like Autoeuropa Volkswagen has to compete for the right to make the job, the teams have to manage their budget to stay in line with the bid given to Germany. Wages in Portugal are one-third what they are in Germany, but that is what it takes to make a niche market profitable and that would be one of the reasons Portugal was the right place for the plant. The Industrial Park that houses most of the outsourcing for Volkswagen is in the same complex. There are almost 4,000 more employees at suppliers in the region of Setubal that make all this happen.
After the plant visit I drove with some colleagues to the coast in one of the newly made EOSS'. We drove the microclimates through Herdade do Pinheiro to a little restaurant, Aqui Ha Peixe. People looked the whole time, saying things in Portuguese that I didn't understand, but their faces told the story; they liked this new Volkswagen.
The four-seater coupe will be offered in two versions: a 2.0-liter 4 cylinder turbocharged engine that pulls 200 horsepower for only $27,990 and a 3.2-liter narrow angle 6 cylinder that makes 250 horsepower and costs $36,850. The two versions come with either FSI or DSG. Fuel Stratified Injection, (FSI) is direct injection for petroleum which yields a high output and low fuel consumption. Direct injection has been used with diesel for many years. Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) allows for the agility and sportiness of a manual transmission in a conventional automatic transmission.
The big deal is the hardtop retractable convertible. When we were in front of another EOS we remarked on how much it looked like any other coupe. The fun comes with the top down which makes it the perfect marriage of fun and practicality. Imagine, a regular coupe with estimated 22-24 city mpg and 27-32 highway mpg starting at $28,000. Now add a hardtop retractable to that. All the other competitors in the $25K-$35K have a soft top convertible, not hardtop.
As we took the ferry across the Baia de Setubal I asked Anna why Volkswagen didn't just ship the EOSS' to Halifax, Houston and San Diego from Setubal, instead of up to Imden, Germany. She explained that there would be only about 1,200 EOSS' a month, not enough to fill a barge. The Scirocco will launch in 2007 and will be shipped to Germany, then to the United States as well.
EOS - the goddess of dawn is barefoot on the hood of her convertible, sipping a glass of Palmela wine. Volkswagen's new day has dawned.