Factory Tour Series : Volkswagen Anchieta production line, Brazil

This month, Volkswagen of Brazil (VW do Brasil) offered me an unprecedented opportunity to take my 1989 Volkswagen Saveiro project back to the factory that built it almost 30 years ago, before it heads off around the world. Founded in 1959, the Anchieta factory is particularly historic, as it was the first Volkswagen plant built outside of Germany. And as always, I had my cameras ready to share the experience with you.

[For a little bit of backstory, I was in Brazil to attend the Bubble Gun Treffen Volkswagen show in Aguas de Lindoia, and during the week before I had built the pickup truck at Castor Suspensions in Jundiai, Brazil. The Saveiro is now an ethanol-fueled, 300 horsepower project, with 10” wide BBS 3-piece wheels.]


Driving outside, the palm trees and the bright sunlight in December are telltale signs that this is indeed not Northern Germany, but the architecture is straight out of Wolfsburg. As well as having the feeling of glee to be driving my own privately owned, modified Volkswagen pickup truck through the gates, I’m also trying to force myself to savor the details, and remember to take photos instead of simply driving and standing in awe of the situation.


Inside the factory, it’s again pure Volkswagen – perfectly smooth grey floors, white painted walls and machinery, and workers dressed in muted blue and off-white uniforms. But the sunlight pouring in through the multitude of windows isn’t quite the average for Wolfsburg, nor is the amount of chatter and, gasp, even approval for selfies on the production floor.

When the supervisor in one area allows me to take a big group photo of his staff, and then offers me a delicious peanut butter based candy, the reason for the relatively extraordinary frivolity becomes clear – this is the day the teams have their Christmas lunches, and we’re visiting at the end of the break. But the line won’t stop for the holidays for several more shifts – there are currently 3 shifts per day – so any photos are quick, and carefully taken around the workers, as the cars continue to flow past. 

The production floor is based around a single continuous flow of cars, which bring the car from empty shell to the final, fully built product–the sheet metal is stamped in a different area and the paint is applied in another. The latest versions of these lines around the world can produce multiple different models at the same time, and Anchieta is one of these plants. Entirely different models can come down the line in a seemingly random (but actually extremely specific) order. The components are then fed mainly by computerized conveyor systems, but also by hand, at precisely the right time and location, and always in the correct order.

Four vehicles were being produced on the day I visited; the Gol (small hatchback and South American staple), the Saveiro (Gol based pickup truck), the Polo (small hatchback sold all over the world – except for the USA; slightly more upmarket than the Gol), and the Virtus (essentially a Polo sedan, and a dead ringer for a 75% scale Mk7 Jetta).


While mechanization reaches almost all parts of the production plant, and dominates some sections (welding and painting are easy examples), in many other assembly areas the machines are secondary and are used to assist the human workflow. Wiring is carefully run by hand, with each small but important clip located properly as the car continuously moves onwards.


On public tours of the Wolfsburg factory, the Volkswagen tour guides take glee in pointing out the event they call “The Marriage.” This is when the chassis and the complete running gear meet for the first time after being assembled independently. Using a fantastically intricate jig, the sub-frames, drive-train, exhaust system, brakes, shock absorbers, and more, are joined, torqued, clamped, and whatever else, before the entire jig plate is lifted effortlessly by machinery to meet the body. A relatively small amount of final bolts attach the components to their true home. This process is the same in Anchieta, with the added little fun that the vehicles are mainly “Total Flex,” being able to run on both gasoline and ethanol fuels from the same fuel tank. VW do Brasil is able to design and build a new car completely in-house with their own design teams, engine production, and more.

The ties remain close with Germany and Wolfsburg though, and upon entering the factory I bumped into friends from the Volkswagen R division [pictured above], who I had last seen at their base in Germany. Indeed, a lot of the Brazilian design team were away during my visit, meeting with their colleagues in Europe.

One example of the machinery helping their human operators with the heavy lifting is the fuel tank installation. The different styles of chassis coming into the operators work area have specific matching fuel tanks, which all share a need to be bolted in from underneath – not a very ergonomically pleasing prospect if you’re supporting the weight of the tank, the fuel pump, and fittings. The tank’s jig is movable and controlled at the hands of the worker who guides it into the correct location.


One specific area that appeared to differ in the Brazilian plant versus its Germanic cousin, is the dashboard installation on the non-MQB platform cars (the Saveiro truck still uses a previous design). In Wolfsburg, on the MQB lines, each dashboard is assembled in another area with the radio, instrument cluster, airbags, ignition switch, climate control system, and even the keys for the exact car that it will meet on the production line. This assembly, with the metal supporting bracket, is not a lightweight proposition and is placed in the car by a very articulating and precise machine that swings and turns and finally gently places it into position in the car. Here in Brazil, it appears to be a manual process of building the dashboard assembly up. I didn’t see where the radio and steering wheels were installed but did spot the dashboards with the wiring ready to receive them.


The Anchieta plant received an investment of R$2.6 billion (approximately ¾ of a billion US$) in 2017, which will see updates happening on the line until 2020. With the new Polo and Virtus based on the global MQB A0 platform, it has already begun producing vehicles using the latest chassis. The A0 is the smaller platform version of the now ubiquitous MQB, which roughly translated to English stands for Modular Translation Matrix. The standard MQB size underpins the Golf, Tiguan, and even the 7-seater Atlas SUV. Nothing in the USA currently uses the A0 version.


All generations of the Saveiro have been produced inside these same walls, and the lovely staff in the facility made a display showing the full range of the current light pickups during my visit. Currently produced in standard two-door cab, slightly extended cab, and for 5 passengers a full extended cab which retains the 2 door design. There’s also a huge variety of equipment and trim levels available across the body types.


The entry-level Robust (yes, that is indeed its name) doesn’t come with a radio but does have ABS braking and disc brakes all round. It’s basically what my own first gen truck would be – my 1989 even came without a heater, only a blower motor for ambient air. The next step up is the Trendline, which adds painted bumpers, remote alarm system, and most intriguingly hydraulic steering – which presumably means that the Robust has manual steering like my older Saveiro.

The next step up is the Pepper Edition, which most importantly to my eyes, adds colored trim including full red mirror caps, fancier alloy wheels, upgraded seats, and a slew of comfort upgrades such as Park Pilot parking sensors, and Aerowischer wiper blades.


The Saveiro Cross adds additional cladding around the lower and upper body, with a very fetching roof-rail-into-bed-rail rack along with other trim and comfort changes. Sadly the closest that any of the models will come to the USA is the Mexico market, with Europe and South Africa also currently missing out on these fun and seriously lightweight little trucks. Do I think they’d sell in the USA or Europe? Its closest relation, the Volkswagen Rabbit Pickup (Caddy truck in Europe), did okay in its time but wasn’t a formula that the auto industry continued to use since then. When was the last time you saw a Subaru Baja being used as a work vehicle, or heck – being driven at all?

It’s easy to see the Saveiro, and the other outputs from the Volkswagen Anchieta factory, on almost every road in Brazil where the products haven’t just been built, but have been designed and developed quite independently from Wolfsburg for many years. I love a good factory visit, but this really does make VW do Brasil as an entity rather special, and to be able to take my own project back inside the walls was a truly historic treat.

My 1989 Volkswagen Saveiro will next head to the Volkswagen Logistics team who will assist in sending it to Germany, where I’ll travel to display it in Wolfsburg, and the GTI Treffen in Worthersee, Austria. Its final international journey will then be to the USA, with the new German-built vehicles, to join me here in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I’m so glad that I was able to take it on a visit home before it heads off around the world. 


A huge thank you to Volkswagen do Brasil, especially Rodrigo Purchio and his wonderful colleagues, and the entire Anchieta factory staff, for making this possible. Additional thanks to VP97 and Castor Suspensions for the welcome in Brazil.

You can explore VW do Brasil’s products at https://www.vw.com.br/

Written and photographed by Jamie Orr. You can follow his adventures on http://Instagram.com/xjamiexoe