The Volkswagen brand has been in a continual struggle to sell cars, and everyone from internet commenters to VAG leadership seems to be scratching their heads as to why. But I think I've figured out exactly what VW needs to do in order to sell more cars. They need to look to their corporate cousin, Audi.
Audi has been highly successful as of late, smashing monthly sales records for the past 39 months in a row. People clearly like Audis, and are lining up in droves to buy them. There's something to be said about the idea of a German car that is attractive to people. They know that it will be more expensive to maintain them, but they are clearly willing to give that up for that idea.
And that is what the core Volkswagen brand needs to emulate.
Currently, Volkswagen is trying to be the German equivalent of Toyota and Honda, but that will never be their target market. People who are shopping Corolla, Camry and Civic are primarily concerned with an appliance they feel will be inexpensive and reliable over the long run, and you can't argue with the legendary reliability of those offerings. Many of these buyers are deeply entrenched in their belief that the Japanese build the reliable cars, the Europeans are expensive and unreliable, and the Americans are just terrible all around, regardless of facts. These are the kinds of people that believe the Camry is the best car ever made (I mean, their last Camry was pretty great…) so they won't even test drive competitors. Volkswagen is not going to be able to compete with the Japanese in this market of people, even if their car is a more pleasurable driving experience, or if their interiors are slightly more sophisticated looking.
But you know what I've noticed?
I work at a company where the average age is at most 27. My company hires a lot of people right out of college, and is filled with people for whom this is their first job. A lot of these young professionals, will trade in their old Civics, Altimas, and Camrys that carried them through college for their first new car. And you know what these young professionals, anxious to prove themselves as real adults, go for time after time?
The Volkswagen Jetta. A German sedan for people that want to show they are grownups but can't afford something with rings, a propeller, or a star glued onto the front.
I think that is the key to Volkswagen succeeding in the US. Volkswagen needs to point consumers at Audi, and say "Can't afford that? Here, try this Volkswagen. You don't have to settle for an economy car." In short, the brand needs to become The People's Audi. Be the "near luxury" brand. Be a brand for people who are aspirational, hoping to one day own an Audi.
The Jetta should no longer be an economy car that's slightly nicer to drive than a Corolla, but an Audi A4 that isn't quite as fast or as well equipped. Get the Audi interior designers to do the interior, and make it feel German and sophisticated with soft touch materials and similar design. Drop the entry level 2.0L NA motor that makes 115 hp, and replace it with a detuned version of the 1.8L turbo engine to make about 130-140 HP. Make it handle well, and give it some low end torque to make it feel faster, but never faster than the Audi A3. Move the price of every trim level up $1,000. Finally, make a Jetta R to be a "halo car" for the product line starting at about $30,000 that would be faster than the A3 and A4 to justify the higher cost, but without a lot of the luxury offerings, and most importantly, without the badge.
Then make a Coupe version for the people who want an A5, but can't afford one. Then take its top off and forget the Eos ever happened. Give the Passat the same treatment, looking at the A6 for inspiration, and make the CC a car for someone who wants an A7, but can't afford. Bring back the Phaeton like you said you would, to top off your line up and be a cheaper A8 or A8L.
To really seal the deal, Volkswagen needs a crossover. It's the hottest segment right now (even Porsche is getting in on that game!). The Tiguan is pretty great, but it's a CUV. Make a crossover like the Q5 or the Macan, follow the philosophy of "near luxury," and it'll sell. Find out how to make the Toureg start at $39,895, then sell the Toureg and Tiguan as cheaper alternatives to the other more expensive European SUVs. Sure, they're expensive compared to a Highlander or a CR-V, but they're a bargain compared to the luxury SUVs.
Volkswagen needs to accept that they can't and won't be the European Toyota; offering cheap reliable cars banking on people blindly buy like they buy a dishwasher. They need to move slightly upmarket and become the car for people who want to drive an Audi, but can't afford one. There's no company trying to be a "near luxury" brand; you can buy either a very well equipped economy car, or a very poorly equipped luxury car, but no one is occupying that space in between, and of all companies, Volkswagen is the brand that is in the best position to define it.
I love cars and I love motorsport. I talk about that a lot on Twitter. Feel free to follow me at @willkinton247. If you want me to look into a particular series or topic, or have any feedback, let me know. #shamelessselfpromotion
Photo Credit: Jalopnik