Publicly, Volkswagen executives are reluctant to refer to the ongoing diesel-emissions scandal as such. At an event on the eve of this year’s Paris auto show, VW CEO Matthias Müller referred to the debacle as a thing “we currently need to cope with,” adding the understatement that “a great deal has changed at Volkswagen over the last 12 months.” Separately, other executives have verbally danced around the subject even while earnestly pressing their apologies at press conferences and auto shows. Diesel woes have become a sort of Voldemort within the halls of Wolfsburg—it’s the scandal that must not be named—but it’s a huge deal. With fines and criminal charges mounting, Volkswagen is in a real bind, but that’s not stopping it from trying to turn the corner and press forward aggressively with new product plans and sales strategies After Diesel. We spoke with the man at the helm of Volkswagen’s newly created North American division, Hinrich J. Woebcken, about what to expect here in the United States. Volkswagen, I.D. concept reveal
As opposed to cars that make life worse? Electrics factor hugely into VW’s way forward.
“Think New” The tagline Think New, which VW debuted in Paris, isn’t being applied only to its coming range of fully electric cars. Volkswagen is doing plenty of new thinking to minimize the sales fallout now. For the 2017 U.S. lineup, that means an updated e-Golf with more driving range (due next year) to be offered in all 50 states. More immediately, VW is adding value by stuffing more content into the Golf, Passat, and Jetta while holding the line on prices or even lowering them. The Golf hatchback, for example, now comes in only two flavors: the $20,715 S and the $22,415 Wolfsburg Edition, both four-doors with the choice of a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. That range has been pared from last year’s flotilla of two- and four-door body styles, the former available in $19,315 stripper base or S trim and the latter in S, SE, and top-of-the-line $28,245 SEL specs. Now consider that the ’17 Wolfsburg Edition comes with nearly the same equipment as the ’16 SEL, including automatic headlights, a panoramic sunroof, heated seats, push-button ignition, and faux leather seats—plus SEL optional extras like blind-spot monitoring and automatic emergency braking as standard—for a price more than $6000 lower. Similarly, the 2017 version of the mid-size Passat sedan now comes standard across the line with automated emergency braking, while the base S now comes with dual-zone automatic climate control, too, with no change to its $23,260 price.
The aim going forward—just as before—is to channel the brand’s core appeal, that of offering a premium-feeling, German-engineered car for everyday prices.
Volkswagen has long struggled to fully crack the U.S. market beyond generating cultish followings for models such as the Beetle, the GTI, and the now-defunct TDI diesels, but these pricing and equipment changes are seemingly already having an effect (which makes us question why it took the diesel crisis to stir such common-sense moves). As North American CEO Woebcken points out, even though diesels made up 25 percent of Volkswagen of America’s sales before the emissions scandal, VW’s “sales numbers, by far, did not go down by 25 percent.” (We checked: Sales through September of this year are down only 12.5 percent over the first nine months of 2015.) The aim going forward—just as before—is to channel the brand’s core appeal, that of offering a premium-feeling, German-engineered car for everyday prices, throughout the lineup. Today, only the Golf lineup lives up to that goal, while the overly premium and expensive (and soon to be replaced) Tiguan and Touareg miss the mark high, and the not-premium-enough Passat and Jetta have fallen short of the ideal. Volkswagen North American division CEO Woebckn
Hinrich J. Woebcken, CEO of VW’s newly created North American division.
A Seat at the Table Incredibly, before now Volkswagen had never set up U.S. operations outside of Germany that were capable of imparting change on new-model development. Volkswagen of America, incorporated in 1955, has been little more than a sales and distribution referee for the U.S. market, in contrast to the U.S. operations of Honda and Toyota, which play significant roles in designing and engineering models sold here. With the creation of two new “divisions” within the company, one of which covers China, the other to handle North American markets, Volkswagen is moving toward this model. This gives the regions some say in the design of all-new models before they’re fully realized. The implications could be huge. German missteps in reading the U.S. market might be averted, preventing future bungled new-model launches like those of the Jetta and Passat in 2011 and 2012. Although notably less expensive than their predecessors, both cars were also seen as drastically less premium products that were arriving just as competitors were holding the line on compact- and mid-size car prices while adding style and content. The downmarket direction taken by the Jetta and Passat, mixed with their McMansion’d platforms not shared by any global VWs, huge back seats, and bland appearance earned the criticism of being cynically Americanized, representing a sort of perversion of U.S. customers’ interests by the German home office. Volkswagen has spent the past five years improving both products, de-cheapening the Jetta while fidgeting with the Passat’s equipment to combat its sales slide since 2012. We’re told the new strategy of North American input on new models won’t interfere with Volkswagen’s continued use of modular vehicle architectures (like the Golf’s MQB setup) but that it could see the addition of U.S.-specific changes to future iterations of those underlying platforms, as well as to the models’ equipment and design. Eventually, at an unspecified later date, the U.S.-market Passat will realign with the global model and transition to the MQB platform shared by the Golf, Tiguan, and upcoming three-row crossover, and it will be engineered in North America. Until then, a clever mix of assembly processes and robot staff will enable VW to build both the current Passat and the new three-row SUV on the same production line in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Jetta, too, will ditch its mongrel Americanized platform for MQB bones later next year. We’re told the styling should mark a step up from today’s conservative duds, incorporating a sleeker “four-door coupe” look, presumably cribbing cues from the Sport Coupe Concept GTE and Mid-Size Coupe concept cars from the past two years. The Golf will be refreshed for 2018 and released next fall. Volkswagen mid-size three-row crossover body, assembled in Tennessee Trucks! Even before the diesel troubles clouded VW’s image, the company was hard at work adding more crossovers and SUVs to its U.S. lineup. Playing from far behind the ball in this critical segment, Volkswagen already was on track to replace today’s pricey, undersize Tiguan with a new, larger, less expensive model riding on the new Golf’s MQB platform. The new Tiguan is due midway through 2017, and it appears to have managed the transition to a lower price point far better than did the 2011 and 2012 Jetta and Passat models. More critically, Volkswagen’s long-overdue three-row crossover (pictured, above, surrounded by Chattanooga workers) arrives this coming spring with a more spacious interior and a lower price than the more luxury-oriented Touareg. The new Tiguan and the yet unnamed three-row crossover are only the first volleys in an all-out truck assault VW has planned for the U.S. market. Woebcken says a subcompact crossover is coming (when isn’t totally clear) to enter the ultra-hot segment currently being fought over by Mazda’s CX-3, Chevrolet’s Trax, Honda’s HR-V, and others. Woebcken sees room for even more SUVs in the mix, but he was coy as to what forms they might take. As for pickups, a vehicle type we’ve long hoped Volkswagen might bring to the U.S., the company is playing it smart. The global Amarok, similar in size to Chevrolet’s popular mid-size Colorado and the Toyota Tacoma, was considered as an option but ultimately dismissed over cost concerns. Woebcken added that the company even studied the idea of entering the U.S. full-size-pickup market but concluded, probably rightly, that the German brand likely would never be accepted in that space.
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. . . And What About Diesel? The short answer is that Volkswagen won’t be touching diesel with a 10-foot pole any time soon in the United States. Putting a finer point on it, Woebcken repeated the notion that there’s little chance “diesel will come back to the same presence it has [even] now.” (VW will continue to offer diesel in other markets, where they’re more popular and/or haven’t been slapped with stop-sale orders.) Between now and 2020, Volkswagen plans to pivot toward affordable, low-compromise fully electric vehicles to lead its alternative-propulsion offerings. During this transition and throughout the post-diesel-scandal restructuring, Woebcken has made it a critical bogey to keep each VW’s “genes” in place. As for the monumental task of sorting out the diesel scandal’s setbacks, from customer confidence to continued investigations and eventual consequences, Woebcken seemed optimistic, saying he took the job believing he and his team have the opportunity to get “the act together of Volkswagen in North America.” He has his work cut out, given the preference TDI owners have shown for having Volkswagen buy back their noncompliant diesels instead of fixing them, which puts a bigger dent in the budget. He’ll be overseeing the launch of the most important new models the brand has had in some time—the Tiguan and the three-row crossover—in a toxic PR environment and through dealers with which VW just settled a $1.2 billion suit over lost sales and the deterioration in value of their franchises. Volkswagen’s status in the United States is still on the decline, and things are likely to look worse before they get better, potentially hampering the financing available for product development and marketing. But who knows, perhaps Volkswagen can weather this thing and finally crack open the American market like it has never done before with its new North American operations. As Woebcken earnestly stated at the end of our interview, “I think this is what you are great about in America, the comeback stories. It’s what you love, right?”
Volkswagen sta cercando di delineare un piano di rilancio negli USA dove le perdite sono mostruose e le vendite scendono da ormai 3 anni, quindi già prima del dieselgate.
Di fatto Vw è l'unica casa che si è rotta le corna per diversi decenni negli Stati Uniti.
La chiave saranno i nuovi suv Tiguan e Atlas poi il resto è ancora da definire.