When talking about car production, one would hardly mention the african continent. There’s a great Renault-Dacia factory in Morocco, some factories in South African and not much happening in between. Yet, there have been some crazy projects, like the time they wanted to built Polos in Angola…
Our journey starts on the east of war-riden Angola, on February 22, 2002. Government troops has ambushed some top officers from the UNITA guerilla. Jonas Savimbi, UNITA’s charismatic leader, is shot 15 times and dies almost instantly. Savimbi had managed to escape multiple assassinations attempt and conspiracies, which earned him the reputation of being invincible. His death was a huge blow for UNITA. Antònio Dembo, his deputy, only outlived him for only 3 weeks. The government knew that the insurgents were now helpless and discussions began. On March 22, 2002. An exact month after Savimbi’s death, UNITA agreed for a cease-fire. The Angolan civil-war was over.
The war lasted for 27 years and it followed 14 years of independance war. Most Angolan have only see anything but war. The country was economicaly and socially bankrupt. Yet, thanks to petrol and diamonds, Angola had a lot of incomes. Angolan needed everything and they had some cash to spend. There were business opportunities for adventurous businessmen, like Johann Johannsen.
Let’s now move to Wolfsburg, in Germany. We’re very far away from Angola and its war. On March 6, 2002, Bernd Pischetsrieder stepped in as chairman of Volkswagen Group. The man who expanded BMW was ready to do the same thing at VW. The group is Europe’s leader and it was now expanding into Asia. Škoda, once a small cheap-car manufacturer, has greatly improved, thanks to the Octavia (1999) and the Fabia (2000.) As Škoda’s chairman, Helmuth Schuster was one the men behind its success. In November 2001, Schuster introduced Škoda in India. A mysterious Indian company called Vahishta Wahan (VW!) managed all the executive’s expense during their trip to India. Those trips were known as the “1001 nights” for Volkswagen executives. Everything was permitted, including shopping trips and prostitute hiring. And back in Wolfsburg, HR’s Klaus-Joachim Gebauer would always refund everything.
In 2003, in Palma de Majorque, Johann Johannsen meets Hans-Christian Lengfeld, a former VW HR executive. Johannsen had a plan to set-up a car assembly in Angola. The Volkswagen Polo would be a perfect fit. Lengfeld tried to get in touch with his former colleagues, including Klaus-Joachim Gebauer and Helmuth Schuster. Volkswagen hired a detective to know more about Johannsen and Lengfeld. The later seemed to have got into a few shady business. While Johannsen was under Spanish police investigation. The detective labeled him as a “serial fraudster”. Yet, Schuster wanted to take care of the venture, just like he did with Škoda, in India.
Johannsen and Lengfeld officially launched AnCar with 200,000 euros. The company would have bought CKD-kits from Volkswagen, shipped them to Lisbon, then brought them to a small factory, in Viana, near Luanda (Angola’s capital.) The Polo would have been assembled there, in order to dodge taxes on import cars. Unbestknown to Volkswagen, Gebauer and Schuster were shareholders of AnCar. VW Pension Trust EV and Vahista Wahan were among the investor’s, though Vahista Wahan’s money was never given to AnCar. Welwitschia dos Santos, Angolan president’s Jose dos Santos younger daughter, was linked to the project.
By December 2004, AnCar had raised 30 millions USD. The company planned to start the production in May 2005. Everything looked promising on the outside. Some newspaper even called Luanda, “the African Detroit”. Nontheless, some flags started to rise. Volkswagen’s detective informed its client that Johannsen has vanished since March. While AnCar was celebrating in Viana, Volkswagen has grown suspicious about some of its executive’s revenues. KPMG was mandated to conduct an internal audit.
The Volkwagen corruption scandal
When KPMG published its report in May, Volkswagen wanted the matter to be treated internaly. But a German TV, NDR aired a program about a whole bribery scheme at Volkswagen and it was now a public scandal. Schuster was among the first to step-down. Gebauer was fired and eventually convicted. Union leader and Schuster’s business partner Klaus Volkert retired. Peter Hartz, Volkswagen HR manager and a close adviser of then-chancelor Gerhard Schröder, also retired. During the summer 2005, German press was all about top VW executive being targetted for corruption. Bernd Pischetsrieder, though not involved in the scandal, was weaken. He eventually resign in 2006.
Meanwhile, Angolese didn’t see any Polo. Out of four AnCar executives, Lengfeld was the only one left. He wisely choosed to stay in Angola. “Tchize” Dos Santos decided to distance herself from the company.
China International Fund (CIF), unlike its name suggest, is a private Hong-Kong-based fund with close ties with the Dos Santos family. In March 2008, they officially took over AnCar’s plant in Viana. They planned to assemble some ZhengZhou-Nissan pick-up trucks there. The Chinese manufacturer had no experience in CKD-kitting and CIF had no experience in car assembly. By 2010, the project was cancelled.
In June 2008, Volkswagen and local company ASGM officialy announced another joint-venture. It was due to produce some Polo, starting in 2009. The CKD-kits would have been sourced from Volkswagen plants in South Africa. The budget was 15 millions USD and they expected 3,000 units by 2009. Sales were poor and Volkswagen stepped down in 2011. Yet, on july 2012, ASGM and Volkswagen proudly displayed some Angolan-built Polo as part of the “Welcome to Lunda” touristic campaign.
There haven’t been a car project in Angola since.