Germany

Rekindling The American Love Affair With Volkswagen

Volkswagen sales in the U.S. are surging, led by the new Jetta line, which wasn't much of a hit back in Germany. With its new popular designs and longstanding reputation for durability, VW is notching its best American results in a decade.

Another VW beetle on American roads and bridges (Legarth)
Another VW beetle on American roads and bridges (Legarth)
Reinhold Schnupp

DETROIT - It's only a paper car – a pinãta hanging from a tree in someone's garden. One of the kids at the party goes at it - hard - with a baseball bat. But nothing doing. Then the bobbing car turns just a little bit and we see the logo: VW. Message clear. This is German engineering. Indestructable.

U.S. Volkswagen boss Jonathan Browning shows this ad and three others after having given his listeners at the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) a thorough rundown of facts and figures about the brand. His talk works a treat with the well-disposed audience. Chalk it up to another U.S. success for the German automaker after a sales year so great it was almost anxiety-inducing. How could you get numbers that good again?

VW sales in the U.S. went up 26% from 2010; that's 324,000 cars sold. The lion's share (150,000) were from the new Jetta line, considered a boring sedan in Germany, but a big favorite with younger American drivers. The model's success in the States has to be seen in the context of equivalent American and Asian models, all of which are plain and unimaginative. In any case, the VW Jetta has never had a better year in the U.S.

Profits surging

And so for the first in a long time, VW is turning a profit in the U.S. "These have been the best 12 months since 2002," says Browning. And it's just the beginning. The new Passat only came on the U.S. market in the last four months of 2011 and -- each of the 22,770 units -- sold out quickly.

Audi is not going to be able to manufacture in the new VW factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee: VW needs all of factory capacity (150,000 cars per year) for itself, so Audi is going to have to find somewhere else to produce in the U.S.

VW has invested $1billion in the U.S. south, creating 2,000 jobs while the factory itself was the first car factory to win U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) platinum certification.

The LEED certification recognizes the fact that the well-isolated factory makes thrifty use of electricity and water, and separates refuse. "The factory didn't even cost more," says factory head Frank Fischer, because the green building features were part of the concept from the outset.

At the Detroit Motor Show (the North American International Auto Show – NAIAS), VW board chairman Martin Winterkorn says that VW is in the process "of building a strong partnership with the Americans." He is looking at increasing sales "so that we are the outstanding carmaker by 2018."

Competition for Toyota and Lexus

The new Jetta Hybrid presented in Detroit by Ulrich Hackenberg, VW board member in charge of development, is unlikely to help much in achieving that goal, however. VW's first hybrid, the Touareg, was a flop – the car was too expensive and compared to a diesel offered no savings on fuel. Winterkorn knew it, but he needed something to compete with Toyota and Lexus. The same holds true for the Jetta Hybrid: it's VW's answer to the Toyota Prius and the Toyota Auris Hybrid.

The Jetta Hybrid is powered by a high-tech turbocharged gasoline engine that is paired with a zero-emissions electric motor. VW isn't yet divulging the price of the car, due to come onto the U.S. market in November and the German market some two months after that.

Creating buzz for VW in Detroit is the E-Bugster, a cousin of the iconic Beetle. The zero-emissions two-seater with the flat white roof can be driven at speeds up to 180 km/hr. A manufacturer like VW needs attention-getting show cars for fairs like Detroit. Then again, Martin Winterkorn and his craftsmen are masters at that.

Read the original article in German

Photo - legarth

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