Kaluga Region: source of Russian VW

Just 200 kilometers from Moscow is the Kaluga Region, the center of Russian science and industry. The country's largest scientific research complex develops hi-tech advances in engineering and electronics.

But the region also boasts a flourishing car industry, with giants like Volvo and Volkswagen basing their joint ventures in Kaluga. The number of cars assembled there grows every year, providing numerous job opportunities.

Renata may be afraid of horses, but she is not afraid of horsepower. Every day she handles 140. And her husband Harald drives just as many. The two work at the Volkswagen factory and were among the first expats to settle down in Kaluga. Renata Manzenrieder is president of the Kaluga International Women’s Club. Harald Manzenrieder heads Volkswagen Technopark.

“I’m the only Brazilian in Kaluga. And everywhere I go and I say I’m from Brazil," she says."Of course I get this cheering and people talk about football - of Pele, Kaka - so it’s always positive. When you’re here you can really feel the culture. You can see the small difference than maybe in a big city like Moscow, [where] you’re just one more in a crowd. And here you stand out."

Well Renata and Harald certainly turned heads locally when they drove the German automotive giant’s first fully Russian-made vehicle off the production line.

“They’re proud they’re Russians. At the same time we see this reservation towards products made in Russia,” Harald shares his impressions. “So we work on that to convince our people, to convince everybody that what we do [has] the same quality as the products from Germany.”

The company was an early-bird to place its bets on the region – bets worth $1 billion. On 700 hectares it built a whole industrial park, something which would be unlikely closer to Moscow due to higher costs.

Other car-makers were hot on their tail lights. Today Kaluga is home to Volvo, Peugeot Citroen and Renaut. Just recently, a steel stamping factory was opened. Now it caters for all VW’s car parts.

The factory in Kaluga is not just the biggest German investment in Russia, but also an example of localization. This is no longer just a car assembly as it was three years ago. Parts are built with Russian hands and ultimately they will be built with Russian steel.

Unlike Renata and Harald, welder Sergey Zuev was born in Kaluga. But in a way, he also stands out from his 3,000 colleagues. He was recruited from a local orphanage. Out of work for ages, Sergey says he is now driven to succeed.

“I want to stay and work here if they give me a chance to grow. I would like to become a foreman and ultimately a manager. I see prospects for my friends too. More and more companies are opening up in the region,” Sergey enthuses.

Renata was behind the idea to employ orphans. She set up a women’s club in Kaluga which, among other projects, undertook the patronage of local orphanages.

“Government does a lot and also private initiators, but after 18 years old they’re on the street and what can we do? If we give clothes, one day it’s worn out. We thought about a project not giving money or clothes, but about giving an opportunity for them to grow up,” she explains.

Sergey is learning German in the hope that one day he will land his dream job – eager to work and give something back to those that gave him a hand, when he most needed it.