VWSA CEO heading to Mladá Boleslav

Another South African-based executive is joining a host of global CEOs who have made their mark in the automotive industry in the challenging market at the southern tip of the African continent.


Volkswagen SA chairman and managing director, Thomas Schaefer, has left Volkswagen Group South Africa (VWSA) to join ŠKODA Auto, based in Mladá Boleslav in the Czech Republic, as the new Global CEO effective 3 August 2020.

Schaefer, the former Chairman and Managing Director of VWSA, was also responsible for sub-Saharan Africa as part of Volkswagen’s expansion strategy into the region. He took up this role in 2017 as part of his responsibilities after taking over the reins at VWSA in February 2015.

Under the guidance of Schaefer, Volkswagen established its presence in various countries on the continent, including Kenya, Rwanda and Ghana. Schaefer was also part of VW’s memoranda of understanding with the governments of Nigeria and Ethiopia. He recently completed three years as president of the African Association of Automotive Manufacturers.

VWSA markets the top-seller passenger vehicle in South Africa, the VW Polo/Polo Vivo, manufactured at the Uitenhage factory in the Eastern Cape, while the popular range has – under the guidance of Schaefer – ramped up international exports by 30%.

Fighting a constant battle against Toyota Motors South Africa, South Africa’s top vehicle manufacturer by market share, VWSA last year (2019) enjoyed a record year with the Uitenhage factory achieving its highest production volume of 161 954 units.

In the same year, the Volkswagen brand reported a record market share of 20.4%, the highest since 1996, while also securing the brand’s position as passenger vehicle market leader.

“My tenure as the MD of VWSA has been the highlight of my career so far,” said Schaefer in a statement. “I am immensely proud to have worked for and led such an impactful and good company. Together with my team, we moved VWSA forward with outstanding production and sales results, which have earned our company recognition locally and abroad.”

Schaefer, who will be succeeded by Dr Robert Cisek (44), the man responsible for the production strategy of the Volkswagen Passenger Cars Brand in Wolfsburg, Germany, is one of many automotive executives to have cut their teeth in South Africa, including:

Dr Johan van Zyl is now Executive Vice-President of the Production Business Unit of Toyota Motor Europe and President and CEO of Toyota South Africa Motors, as well as Senior Managing Officer, Toyota Motor Corporation. He is the first South African to hold this TMC management position.

Arno van der Merwe, former CEO of Mercedes-Benz, is now President and CEO of Beijing Benz Automotive (BBAC);

The new Fiat, Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) CEO Ismaeel Hassen returned to South Africa in August 2019 and was appointed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in July 2020 after spending just more than a decade in the Middle East, where he helped to launch various FCA brands and grow the company’s distributors.

British-born Lewis Booth headed up the Ford Motor Company in South Africa from 1 January 2000 for more than two years after being instrumental in the establishment of Ford from the South African Motor Corporation (SAMCOR) which he controlled as Group managing director from August 1997. In his long career after leaving SA, he was a global Executive Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer for the Ford Motor Corporation, President and Chairman of Mazda Motor Corporation and is currently on the board of Rolls Royce.

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