Would you share a brief account about Renault-SOFASA's history and evolution?
SOFASA has been part of Colombia's automotive industry for over 43 years. We have manufactured over one million vehicles sold in our domestic market and Latin America. Our plant was founded in 1969 with investment from our government and the Renault company (France), which were later joined as partners by Toyota, Mitsui and Grupo Empresarial Bavaria. Nowadays the company is owned solely by Renault. The company's been pioneering in vehicle aspects like safety, design, technology and maintenance. Renault was the first car manufacturer to introduce the airbag and ABS into Colombia; and the first fuel injection motors in this country were ours, too.
Our philosophy is focused on meeting and exceeding people's good taste, needs and expectations. This has been proved by the Renault 4 model, "the loyal friend", "the Colombian car" which made history. The plant at Envigado is the 5th most efficient among Renault's 18 plants worldwide, where every day 288 new vehicles are manufactured.
Which are today's trends in the automotive market?
The whole scheme has changed. We are facing a market with adjustable offers and prices depending on the need for a certain vehicle. The market has been steady during the last couple of years after 2011's growth, which meant over 27 percent, with over 300,000 sold units.
Customer's evolution is obvious. Demand leans towards the SUV offer. Customers demand safety and comfort: automatic transmissions became a reality also in the first-time-buyers' sector, like the Sandero model, which used to hold a 5 percent share of auto sales and now it has increased up to 20 percent.
Which are the company's recent challenges?
To accomplish competitiveness to keep us exporting and being the second best-selling brand in the country. Also, the open market -considering the recent free-trade agreements established between Colombia and many other countries- is a big challenge.
Which programs do you offer to benefit company employees?
Based on Renault's Together Drive The Change philosophy, our company has opened instructional areas for all employees. The Renault Management Way is a behavior code for board members and managerial staff based on Renault's global guidelines. We also offer career-development programs, language lessons and global transfers.
We provide training in every production area for our direct labor cost. Our dynamic competition management allows us to foresee a certain area's needs regarding performance, thus establishing future solutions and requirements.
In order to meet our procedures' and operations' standards, workers engage into continuous SPR (Renault Production System) training, making sure both our manufacturing plant and employees are in the same page with other Renault branches.
Which tech upgrades are being introduced into your procedures?
We have new platforms for the Renault Duster's assembling and for phase 2 of our Logan and Sandero models; also we took a leap forward with robot welding.
A recently developed project worth mentioning is the one carried out with Riduco, one of our suppliers, which is large plastic parts injection in Colombia for the first time ever. This was first accomplished in the city of Manizales, and this year we invested US$14 million to transfer that same process to the Renault-SOFASA suppliers' industrial park. This investment took the bumper, panel and dashboard manufacturing to Envigado, allowing us to bring down the budget for logistics, stocks and production flexibility.
One of our biggest accomplishments is the arrival of the electric vehicle. Our brand is a leading electric vehicle manufacturer in Europe, and now this possibility is introduced to Colombia through Renault. Solar panels and other sustainable energy systems are becoming part of our headquarters.
Which are the actual growth and investment plans?
We have a completely updated showroom from 2012, since we launched 11 models, including some models new to our country. For the Duster model's assembling we invested US$29 million. For Logan's and Sandero's phase 2 we invested almost US$13 million. And future investments seem to be around US$65 million.
What sets your company apart from the rest?
Our Drive The Change philosophy has turned us into a pioneering brand, a champion among people, a brand that Colombians feel their own. We want to break from the usual patterns, we hope to do so with electric vehicles being the first brand marketing that kind in the country.
Which actions is the company taking to achieve sustainability?
The company works on Renault's Eco2 program, part of Drive The Change, in order to offer sustainable commuting with products and programs such as the electric vehicle. The program suggests bringing down the environmental impact regarding vehicles, from design until the end of the product's life cycle.
The Envigado plant is ISO 14001 certified since 2002. In Renault plants' annual worldwide ranking, we are number one on energy saving.
Who would you list as the company's main partners and customers?
We count with two essential partners. In the commercial area our main partner is Renault dealerships network. In manufacturing, those partners are our directory of suppliers. And our customers, more than a million people purchasing our vehicles in Colombia and beyond.
Regarding the future, where will the company be five years from now and how are you going to achieve such goals?
Five years from now we hope Renault-SOFASA achieves 20 percent from a 500,000-unit market about to grow 30 percent from today. We see ourselves within an established manufacturing plant being our export platform towards different countries in our continent, able to produce 100,000 vehicles per year. We have a really strong strategy and a very aggressive competition plan engaging suppliers and dealerships. Our expectations are based on a market able to grow in the same rate that countries like Argentina, Chile and Brazil have grown.