Volkswagen Magazine

THINK AHEAD

quality across the board.

Quality assurance is particularly important for Volkswagen. The company boss meets with CEO Martin Winterkorn on a weekly basis. Around 16,100 employees worldwide work in all departments to ensure that solutions to problems are found right away – or rather that problems don’t occur in the first place.

Text Annekatrin Looss
Photos Stefan Pielow / Agentur Focus (1), Nikolai Schmidt / d-foto (1), Andreas Hempel (1), Getty Images (2)
Martin Winterkorn personally tests vehicles fresh from the factory almost everywhere in the world – several times a year.

The engine starts up. Martin Winterkorn listens very carefully to the sound, steps on the accelerator, again, harder. The engine impressively increases its volume, and the Scirocco sets off without any particular destination in mind.

The roads are free of traffic. Winterkorn pulls the steering wheel to the left, lets go of it, and watches how it returns to its central position. “That’s good”, he says. He switches to third gear, fourth gear. “What kind of noise was that?” He switches back down. And up. “What’s that? This rattling!” he asks Frank Tuch, Head of Group Quality Assurance. He is sitting next to him and noting down all of the CEO’s remarks.

A group approval drive. This is the name given to the process when the Board of Directors and about 100 technicians test all the features of vehicles that are going into series production in the coming half-year. 30 vehicles from across the Volkswagen Group drive in a fleet. Whatever gets criticised during these drives must be improved. Before this happens, the models are not brought to market. Winterkorn regularly sits behind the wheel of a test vehicle.


Quality is the boss’s prerogative at Volkswagen. It is the most important purchase argument for the customers of Europe’s largest automobile manufacturer. Other companies have a Quality Director. In Wolfsburg the CEO fills this role himself. “Every Monday is Q day,” says Frank Tuch, Head of Group Quality Assurance. This means the Quality Assurance department managers discuss their current topics. Every Monday, Tuch meets with Winterkorn and presents what they have discussed to the Board of Directors. Directors.

 

Tuch is the boss of the biggest quality organisation in German industry, and maybe even the world. With 16,100 employees and its own logo, the department is like a company within a company. Its work begins long before the production of a new vehicle, with market research to help make decisions on pertinent questions and the study designs. And the work only ends a long time afterwards when the last spare part is delivered with the attested Volkswagen Quality Assurance and service ceases in authorised garages. This is known as “end of service” in the industry.

The Quality Assurance employees know the optimum volume of cooling water for every single model of the 12 brands that are part of the Group. They test materials, engines and gears, they optimise socket joints, sealed seams and gaskets, and determine how the cars are to be transported from plant to Retailer. They know the correct white for the interior lighting, the perfect smell of the cockpit and the right sound of a door when it closes. They ask customers about their level of satisfaction, and quiz distribution about possible problems. “Actually, there’s no area where we’re not involved,” says Tuch.

 

And of course, Quality Assurance test drives all vehicles. As soon as Technical Development has passed the vehicles to Quality Assurance and approved them for series production, the cars are tested in “quality assurance drives” at over 21 stations worldwide – from South Africa to Russia. For instance, while vehicles in northern Scandinavia have to withstand extreme cold and deep snow, the focus in India is on monsoon rains and thus the volume of water that windscreen wipers and other components can deal with. In South Africa, on the other hand, instead of moisture each component is exposed to a fine dust. All conceivable variables are examined by Quality Assurance personnel. Every year, all the stations worldwide drive a total of more than 36 million kilometres, which is about 1,000 orbits of the Earth.

» Actually, there’s no area where we’re not involved. «

Quality Assurance helps across the board to ensure that every Volkswagen runs smoothly – here a Phaeton is being tested in a light tunnel in Dresden’s Gläserne Manufaktur auto factory .

» Our vehicles have to be so robust that they can cope in extreme conditions. «

“Whether in snow, heat, rain or dust, our vehicles have to be so robust that they can cope in extreme conditions,” says Tuch. “We sell and build more than half of the vehicles outside Europe”. Martin Winterkorn has tested vehicles fresh from the factory almost everywhere in the world – in the African Savanna, in the rains of India or the snow of Scandinavia. In about 20 of these test drives a year, the directors are sitting behind the wheel. Every comment, every note, every problem is worked on until a solution is found to satisfy the management.

The Quality Assurance officers at Volkswagen are also investigators. For example, as part of the German “breakdown” programme. This comes into effect when a vehicle comes to a standstill during the guarantee term. A team of Distribution, Quality Assurance and Development personnel troubleshoots until the problem has been solved. Without the curiosity and instincts of a detective, you probably wouldn’t ever imagine that a Sharan might have a breakdown because the supplier of the boost pressure tube cleans his machines every weekend with an agent which leaves residue that attacks the tube material making the first tubes produced on Monday morning unusable.

» We are not the people in mechanics’ overalls who just point out the problems. «

One thing is important to Tuch: “We are not the people in mechanics’ overalls who just point out the problems”. His employees focus more on the solution than the problem. The four-eyes principle is key here. Whether Development, Production or Service, whether China, Germany or Brazil – in addition to the Quality Assurance officer, there is always an employee on site inspecting the vehicles. The Group is proud of the global networking of its employees and the solutions that they find together.


For example, India. The Wolfsburg plant dealt with the question of why the horns from Group factories were failing after just a short time. Tuch’s team worked with the Indian technicians to figure out that Indians use their horns a lot more often in traffic than, say, Europeans or Americans. This extra strain was exacerbated by the climate conditions. Today, the Polo produced in India is installed with a horn that can easily be used more than 500,000 times.