Wolfsburg, May 17 2012: When they began their apprenticeships at Volkswagen, the four young women and five young men never dreamt such a project would form part of their vocational training. They are learning to become automotive mechatronics technicians, automotive painters, interior fitters and process mechanics. And they are among the best apprentices in their respective years.
This achievement brought the young talents a very special commission from the Board of Management in autumn 2011: they were asked to design and build a Golf GTI. The 2012 apprentices’ version of the Golf GTI will be one of the top highlights at the Volkswagen stand during the Wörthersee GTI meet in Reifnitz, Austria, on May 31.
It is early May and the cult-status horsepower and tuning parade in the state of Carinthia is approaching fast. Nine Volkswagen apprentices have been working on the Golf GTI since last October. Their goal: to style their own unique interpretation of the sporty classic, setting their stamp on the design, engine configuration and numerous other details. Just a few days before the big event kicks off, it is time to pay the GTI and its project team a visit.
The two instructors Björn Schallhorn and Detlef Weiner put the team together from a variety of disciplines: Lisa Batke (19) is in the third year of her apprenticeship as a car mechatronics technician, just like her colleagues Richard Neubert (18) and Martin Schmidt (22). Roman Huck (24) is in the second year of his apprenticeship. Tim Köhler (19) is a second-year apprentice training as a process technician for plastics and rubber technology. Laura Krätz (18) and Christian Wolter (23) are in their third year of training as automotive painters. Charleen Pohle (19) and Sarah Unverzagt (20) are second-year apprentice interior fitters. Their unanimous verdict on the project: ‘This is the highlight of our apprenticeship.’
The sponsor of the Wörthersee project, Prof. Werner Neubauer, Member of the Volkswagen Passenger Cars Board of Management responsible for Components, feels that this kind of project is of key importance during an apprenticeship: ‘Restyling the Golf GTI means the apprentices have access to all kinds of components from the Volkswagen model range. As a result, the show car symbolises diversity, innovation and quality ‘made by Volkswagen’.’ Volkswagen has been giving its best apprentices the opportunity to expand their technical knowledge by working on special vehicle projects since 2004. Four of these vehicles have been showcased at the Wörthersee meeting. This year’s GTI is the fifth project to be unveiled to tuning fans in Austria.
‘This project illustrates how the thorough knowledge, commitment and creativity of our apprentices culminate in a fascinating show car that combines technical extravagance and everyday utility,’ Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg, Member of the Volkswagen Passenger Cars Board of Management responsible for Development, said. And this opinion is shared by Bernd Osterloh, Chairman of the Volkswagen General Works Council: ‘Young people have a passion for cars and are deeply committed when it comes to realising their own ideas. Our nine apprentices, who as a team have developed a remarkable project, bear witness to that.’
Although the technical details of the Golf GTI are still a secret, we were allowed to sit in on one of the weekly team meetings held in a room in Hall 103 in Wolfsburg. The room is pretty bare, but it does contain a pinboard full of drafts, photos of different cars, design drawings and fabric samples. Right from the outset, the apprentices agreed that this GTI would be hand crafted as far as possible and that they would only be making minor use of ‘off the peg’ parts.
As Martin Schmidt reports: ‘In the first few weeks we got our inspiration from photos of our dream cars. At the same time, we tested the feel of materials such as leather and fabric samples for the interior.’ Creative brainstorming came up with the motto of ‘sporty travel’. This year’s GTI built by the apprentices is characterised by a sporty chassis and comfortable interior. In the words of Lisa Batke: ‘Elegant and simple with lots of stylish accents – that’s how we want our Golf GTI to look.’ Along with Richard Neubert, Roman Huck and Martin Schmidt, the 19-year-old is part of the four-strong team of automotive mechatronics technicians responsible for the technical refinements.
The two interior fitters Sarah Unverzagt and Charleen Pohle have deposited their freshly upholstered GTI top sport seat directly beside the body. Unverzagt casts a critical eye over their work and discovers a fold in the leather on the inside of the bucket seat. ‘When seats are sewn by hand you can’t avoid the odd tuck and fold. We’ll smooth this one out before the big day.’ Like their colleagues on the project, the two young ladies have been working on the interior fittings since mid-October. ‘As the weeks progress, you get more and more self critical. After all, we want to showcase a perfect GTI at Wörthersee,’ they say.
A few halls away is the paint shop where the two automotive painters Christian Wolter and Laura Krätz are working on the perfect shine for the sound system fitted in the luggage compartment. For them, the freedom to experiment with the techniques they have learnt for the very first time is a special experience – particularly as every day brings something new. They found material procurement negotiations a challenge, but as 18-year-old Laura Krätz says: ‘My knees were shaking during the first phone call with an outside supplier. After that, everything went smoothly.’
Prof. Heiko Gintz, Head of Vocational Training in Wolfsburg, has supported the young talents from the start and observed their enormous development: ‘The apprentices were constantly making their own decisions which needed coordinating with various departments in the company. Their self-confidence has blossomed as a result of the project work.’
Before they were selected for the Golf GTI team, the nine apprentices had only seen each other briefly in the works canteen. Seven months into the project they are a close-knit team that has matured with the multitude of tasks they have had to master. ‘Every idea and opinion is listened to at our team meetings and thrashed out if necessary,’ says Martin Schmidt, who now knows that ‘a team can find a solution to any problem’.
Now the crowds are gathering at Wörthersee. But that does not bother the apprentices, who watch every detail like hawks. Take the screw heads, for example: they are visible under the pane of Plexiglas in the luggage compartment and do not fit in with the overall impression of elegance and flair. So the blunt screw heads are unscrewed and polished. When asked why they are paying such great attention to detail, they laugh and reply: ‘Our Golf GTI is a customised business card for Volkswagen, so it has to be 100 per cent perfect!’