A tour of VW’s Puebla, MX plant reminds me that building cars is like nothing else.
Working for a car assembly line may not seem like the most exciting job but it just might be one of the most fulfilling. I’ve been to a number of plants in Japan, Europe, the US and Canada and something struck me at the Volkswagen Beetle’s going away party: Assembly plants build families, and people.
It might read as a sappy and obvious statement but that’s because you’re looking at it only from the point that all companies, no matter the business, are places where bonds are created and friends made. I know less than 1/10 of 1% of what goes on in this world so consider this nothing more than an opinion: there’s pride, dignity and a sense of purpose unlike any other that comes with building cars.
This is especially true for the thousands of labourers that worked the Beetle shifts, in particular those who toiled away at building the Type 1, the “original” Beetle. The “bug” is an icon and featured prominently in pop culture during the 60s, and well into the 90s. It also got the entire Mexican nation on wheels, much like the Ford Model T did for the US and Canada. As well, and to this day, the Beetle remains one of the most widely recognized products in the world.
How would you feel if something you helped build was an integral part of millions of people’s lives? Would you feel the same pride making tires? Clothing? Burgers? Drugs, like the ones produced by Purdue Pharma? Building houses? Other than the latter, all of these consumables are “disposable” while a car can be passed on and many will outlive those who once owned them.
No matter what, if you were one of the thousands of hands assembling the VW Beetle up until 2003, when the air-cooled Beetle finally went out of production, it’s impossible to not be emotional over the loss of the car. While in Puebla recently, I attended the #byebyeBeetle event where I witnessed genuine emotions displayed by the 35 or so line-workers present while the final (well, almost) 3rd generation Volkswagen Beetle left the assembly line.
It’s the emotion. It’s all about feelings and yes, I know cars are inanimate things but despite that, they have character, can be as dependable as man’s best friend – they really are part of our lives. These sentiments and passion apply to all assembly-line workers who’ve built cars and trucks that delivered babies, brought the kid to the hospital with a broken leg, help them move away and so on. And even if automation is prevalent and has been for decades, cars still have a soul, and it comes from those who put them together.
This trip to VW’s Puebla Plant opened my eyes further to what it is to be involved with cars. And in doing so, I also felt a pang for GM’s Oshawa employees and for all those who are affected by various closures around the globe.
Cars, SUVs, pickups, and all the others are arguably the greatest human advancement of the 20th Century. They bring people together and make them happy. And don’t you dare say it’s also the worst because of emissions, and pollution! We can talk about this at another time.