Juliet interviews VWSA’s Thomas Schaefer

This lockdown has a few perks, one of which is being able to chat to some of the most influential people within the motoring industry. This week I chatted to the chairman and managing director of Volkswagen Group South Africa, Thomas Schaefer. He oversees three brands, namely Audi, Volkswagen commercial and Volkswagen passenger vehicles. But I wanted to know what he drives, which product he is most proud of and what he thinks we can expect for the future of the motor industry.

Being the head of a manufacturing company certainly has its perks. Mr. Schaefer has three cars sitting in his garage – he has to keep a balance between all three brands – he has a Volkswagen Touareg with Black Styling package, an Audi S5 Cabriolet, and a Volkswagen Amarok  – which his wife drives (I cannot tell you how happy I am to hear this! Go Mrs. Schaefer).

I asked him why he loves these three cars and I think he described exactly why I love these cars. “The Touareg offers the best package – the power, the infotainment, everything. It is the best SUV overall with fantastic driving performance. Everything just works and I absolutely love it on long distances.”

“The S5 cabriolet is the sleekest four-seater cabriolet, even if I am sad there is no longer an RS5 as it was my absolute favourite, this 3.0-litre V6 does so well. It is the perfect weekend getaway car. You can fit everything in it without feeling like you are sitting on the engine. And the Amarok, well there is no better bakkie, that is just the way it is.” One has to appreciate the passion Mr. Schaefer has for these brands, right?! 

I wanted to ask a trickier question and so decided to find out what engine Mr. Schaefer would choose if he could only ever drive one engine for the rest of his life. Without hesitation he answered, “The R8 V10 Plus with 449 kW! It is the most brutal and most fun-driving engine I have ever had. The sound, the torque, it makes your brain freeze. Although it is not fun for the neighbours when you start it up.”

Is there one product that has been developed by the Volkswagen Group that makes him beam with pride? “The Volkswagen ID3! It is fully electric, fully connected, with a range of 550 km, and it is affordable – it speaks to the tradition of Volkswagen and the Beetle, a car for everybody. From a company that was focused on anything but electric to changing to a complete strategy of electrification is amazing. I am so proud that they have pulled it off. It will be launched in Europe next month.”

And what does the future hold for the motor industry, “I do think we will recover. If we look at China, it lost a good month of overall sales but will make it up by the end of the year. Because decisive decisions were made here in South Africa, we have a good chance of recovering, but we need to get back to business. We need to open dealerships (with safety measures in place) because there is no reason we can’t sell cars. Most stuff is done online. We will survive this!” Here’s hoping businesses can start up again asap!

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