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Production Sites

Two plants, two start-ups

For a few weeks now, the new Polo has been rolling off the line in Pamplona, Spain, while the T-Roc has been doing the same in Palmela, Portugal. Plant managers  Emilio Sáenz (Pamplona) and Miguel Sanches (Palmela) discuss the start-ups.

Mr. Sanches, Mr. Sáenz, have you talked to each other about the start-ups in your plants over the past few weeks?
Sanches: Of course. We maintain close contact and often share our experiences. Furthermore, I’ve test driven the Polo.
Sáenz: I actually was in Palmela myself for seven years and worked together with Miguel there. We’ve known each other well since then, often talk about our work, and support each other.

What significance does the new T-Roc have for Palmela, Mr. Sanches?
Sanches: The T-Roc will ensure that our plant is utilized to its full capacity and has sustainable growth.

And the Polo for Pamplona, Mr. Sáenz?
Sáenz: The Polo will provide job security for the next 10 to 15 years. We’ll also be starting production of a second model at the end of next year – the first time a vehicle has been produced alongside the Polo.

What’s special about both of the current production start-ups?
Sanches: The T-Roc is more than a new model for us. When it comes to volume and jobs, the start-up represents the beginning of a new era for the Palmela site.
Sáenz: The Polo is being produced on a completely new MQB platform. That has involved many changes, which is why we had to make a lot of conversions to our plant.

Pamplona plant


Polos of the fifth generation rolled off the line in Pamplona in 2016.

Emilio Sáenz ­(55)

The Spaniard has been director of the Pamplona plant since 2014, and is the managing director of Volkswagen Navarra. Before that, he worked for Volkswagen in Spain and Argentina.

Have you been involved in other production start-ups before this?
Sanches: Yes, for the Sharan, Eos, and Scirocco here in Portugal, and before that for the Jetta, Beetle, and Golf in Puebla, Mexico.
Sáenz: I remember the production start-up for the previous Polo well, as I was the one responsible at the site at the time. We’ve made more than 2.5 million of them since then.

Have there been any challenges that have taken you by surprise during the current start-ups?
Sáenz: I can name two: the production of the vehicle bodies using new systems and technologies, and painting the two-tone roof using the new “digital printing” process. We’re the first site in Europe to introduce this technology for the painting process.
Sanches: We followed the Product Development Process (PDP) procedures, which is why there have been hardly any surprises. And our team was able to cope with any that did arise.

How long did your team prepare for launching series production, and how many employees were involved in it?
Sanches: We began our preparations four years ago. Twenty employees from every division went to Wolfsburg and acquired the know-how there that they needed. They then conveyed this knowledge to their colleagues here in Palmela. In the end, some 280 employees here at our site have been involved in the launch.
Sáenz: We’ve been preparing for the Polo start-up for almost three years. Around 300 employees have been involved.

» A start-up is a long-distance run which demands that you overcome hurdles every day. «

Werk Palmela


cars were produced in Palmela in 2016 (Volkswagen Scirocco and Sharan, Seat Alhambra).

Miguel Sanches (48)

Sanches, a native of Portugal, began his career at Volkswagen Autoeuropa in 1993, and has been director of the Palmela plant since 2016. Before that he worked at Volkswagen de México for five years.

What changes were made at the plant in Palmela prior to the series start-up?
Sanches: We converted everything in body construction and on the production line to the MQB. Furthermore, we now have a new paint shop where we are also able to paint the T-Roc in two colors.  
Sáenz: A lot had to be done at our site in Pamplona as well. The introduction of the new MQB platform resulted in a major expansion to body construction and significant changes in assembly.

What support did you receive from Wolfsburg?
Sanches: We had close contact right from the beginning and formed an efficient network based on trust. This ensured we became a strong team.
Sáenz: Brand planning for the pilot factory and development helped us a lot. We were also able to use the experience we had gained when producing the previous generation of the Polo.

Speaking of experience, are the sites in South Africa and Brazil profiting from your expertise? After all, the Polo will soon start production there too.
Sáenz: Of course. Since October, more than 200 colleagues from South Africa and Brazil have taken part in a kind of training with us. Being the lead plant for the Polo ­becomes a lot more important during a start-up phase.

»Our entire team has done an outstanding job.«

What has been the best moment for you in the course of this series start-up?
Sanches: The anticipation and then the joy that the entire team felt when the very first T-Roc came off the line.
Sáenz: That was less than two weeks ago, when all three shifts were working on the new Polo. That’s when we knew that we had everything under control. The entire site is on board, and we’re getting better from week to week.

Are you proud of your team?
Sanches: Yes, I am extremely proud – of both my team’s technical know-how and their dedication and ability to focus on a shared objective.
Sáenz: A start-up is a long-distance run which demands that you overcome hurdles every day. Our entire team has done an outstanding job.

How do you like the new T-Roc?
Sanches: It is an extraordinary vehicle in the way it looks, the way it drives, and the way it feels.

And the new Polo?
Sáenz: Super. The Polo is a great leap forwards – above all when it comes to quality, driving dynamics, safety, and infotainment.