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Volkswagen Group South Africa says it has registered a new record for the number of vehicles produced at its Uitenhage plant in a single month.

In October 2019, the factory churned out 16 453 units (comprising Polo and Polo Vivo hatchbacks), besting the previous record of 15 131 units set a decade ago (in October 2009).

By the end of October 2019, the plant’s year-to-date production figure stood at 140 482 units, with some 92 029 of those manufactured for export.

“It is proof of VW SA’s commitment to excellence that the plant was able to achieve this milestone,” said Thomas Schaefer, Volkswagen Group South Africa chairman and managing director.

“I am proud of each and every employee who contributed to making this new record a reality, and I am confident that together we can achieve many more milestones like this one – to the benefit of the economy of Nelson Mandela Bay.

“Our plant is on track to achieve its record production volume of 162 000 units by the end of the year,” he added.

In August 2019, we published local pricing for the Final Edition versions of Mercedes-Benz’s SLC. And now we can confirm the German firm’s roadster range has quietly exited South Africa.

Before its removal from the local line-up, the SLC range had comprised three variants: the SLC200, SLC300 and Mercedes-AMG SLC43.

The SLC200 was powered by a turbocharged 2,0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine delivering 135 kW to the rear axle via either a six-speed manual or nine-speed automatic transmission, while the SLC300 offered 180 kW from an uprated version of the same unit.

The flagship Mercedes-AMG SLC43, meanwhile, employed a turbocharged 3,0-litre V6 petrol unit generating 270 kW and 520 N.m, enough for a sprint from standstill to 100 km/h in a claimed 4,7 seconds.

Interestingly, Mercedes-Benz in Germany hasn’t officially confirmed the future of the SLC roadster (which, of course, previously went by the SLK moniker), although rumours suggest an immediate successor is not planned.

Volkswagen Group South Africa says the 200 000th example of the sixth-generation Polo has rolled off the production line at its Uitenhage plant in the Eastern Cape.

The local arm of the Wolfsburg-based firm says 153 582 units were exported and 46 418 were produced for the SA market, with production of this generation starting in September 2017. That means the milestone has been reached in two years, with the 200 000th unit taking the shape of a red Polo GTI.

The Polo is exported to all right-hand markets worldwide, with the factory furthermore supplementing production of left-hand-drive Polo units for European markets.

Between January and August 2019, the plant has built 110 265 units, covering the Polo (including Polo GTI) and Polo Vivo ranges. The Uitenhage facility plant has been building Polos since 1996, when it started local production of the Polo Classic. In total, Volkswagen has manufactured 1 053 600 vehicles for export since 1994.

“This milestone could not have been achieved without the dedication of our employees,” said Thomas Schaefer, Volkswagen Group South Africa chairman and managing director.

“Our success, both locally and overseas, benefits our workforce and the local economy. We intend to keep achieving these milestones and contributing to the economy of Nelson Mandela Bay.”

Contemporary Swedish class on a tight budget...

History

Saab stood for “Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget”, which means Swedish Aircraft Corporation Limited in the Scandinavian language. Founded in 1937, its parent company specialised in aerospace and defence hardware. Saab joined Scania Trucks in 1968 and went through many difficulties under GM ownership in the early 1990s. The company eventually filed for bankruptcy in 2011 (in South Africa, Scania is still active with a wide range of commercial vehicles).

With homework, you shouldn’t be too worried about parts availability on this 9-3, and used prices are low, making it a calculated risk.

Packaging

The 9-3 was based on the Opel/Vauxhall Vectra but had many improvements to its crash safety and suspension. Driving comfort was excellent, from the seating to instrumentation and trim. Despite limited sales, the convertible was particularly popular and most of the cars available on Gumtree are drop-tops. The sedan’s boot is quite large at 300 litres and the spacious rear seats fold to allow 1 056 litres.

Powertrain

While previous models used a 2,3-litre engine, this version scaled down to a GM Ecotec 2,0-litre with mild turbocharging to produce between 110 and 155 kW, and 240 to 300 N.m of torque, depending on the model. Our test unit delivered 129 kW using a Garret turbo set at 0,7-bar boost. The engine was mounted transverse, driving the front wheels, and had d-o-h-c. Fortunately, the 16 valves were driven by a camchain. There was a choice of a five-speed manual or a five-speed auto.

Which one to get

The Convertible is likely to retain a higher value but you may prefer the sedan for security reasons. Before purchase, check that everything works, especially the powered hood if it’s a drop-top.

What to watch out for

With parts availability the biggest reason for the low prices of 9-3s, we had a look at possibilities. One that stood out was Masterparts, which will source many components but note this excludes body panels. The option is always there to use panel beaters to repair bodywork. Breakers yards can be contacted for spares from cars that have been written off.

A search for windscreens and taillamp lenses resulted in some interesting offerings at reasonable prices from Australia. Of course, shipping may double the price, but it could cost much less than local producers charge for some of our newer vehicles.

Workshop manuals are available from various suppliers. Many parts are on offer, both new and used, on eBay, including replacement woodgrain dash panels, bumpers and grilles. Lastly, there is no shortage of Saab enthusiasts worldwide, so make use of their expertise for advice and locating parts.

Availability and prices

While sales numbers locally were low, making the car somewhat rare, there are always a few for sale, mostly in a good state of repair. The prices vary considerably but takers are few so we would encourage haggling.

Future

After such a colourful history, it would be a pity if there was no future. Initially, the Swedish consortium NEVS (National Electric Vehicle Sweden) had joined forces with a large Chinese manufacturer to produce electric vehicles under the Saab name. It lost the rights to use the name and now builds the vehicles – based on the 9-3 – under the nomenclature NEVS.

Interesting facts

Way back, in February 1959, we tested a very different Saab with a similar name, the 93B. This had a water-cooled, three-cylinder, two-stroke engine of just 750 cm3 capacity and produced 25 kW at 5 000 r/min. It had a three-speed manual gearbox and took 32,4 seconds to reach 100 km/h before topping out at 119,7 km/h.

If you're interested in the bigger 9-5, we tested an SE Turbo in August 1998 and the wagon variant exactly two years later. Both used a 2,3-litre turbopetrol developing 125 kW and 280 N.m.

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