Detroit 2011: 2012 Volkswagen Passat
By Charles Krome
Just before the North American International Auto Show opened, the New York Times, in previewing the all-new VW Passat, published a rather telling insight from Christian Klingler, “the Volkswagen executive board member responsible for sales.” Mr. Klingler was discussing the direction of VW’s future products and was quoted as saying: “Our cars have to have a language that is easily understood. We are really trying to get into the head of the American customer.”
You know, because U.S. customers were obviously too stupid to understand Volkswagen’s previous “language.”
But here’s the thing: While the automotive elite (and me, too) have been deriding VW’s decision to cater to U.S. buyers by making the Passat and Jetta bigger, cheaper and less-expensive than their predecessors, that might be the simplest way to quickly grow U.S. sales. And that’s Volkswagen’s priority here, remember, not building smallish-but-fun-to-drive German sedans.
Consider these numbers: Volkswagen wants to double U.S. sales by 2013, which means finding another 256,830 annual sales in the next two years. That seemed like a lot when VW first announced its goal, but really, a mainstream mid-size sedan (like the new Passat) could be worth a huge chunk of this on its own. After all, the Hyundai Sonata scored 196,623 sales in 2010, and it was the sixth-best-selling mid-sizer of the year behind the Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Nissan Altima, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. The last, the archetype of the transportation appliance, found more than 327,000 new customers last year.
The current Passat? 12,497, and that included station wagon buyers.
The sales outlook for the new Passat (and the Jetta as well) also will benefit from a trend that’s coming from the exact opposite direction. While Volkswagen is aiming to reach a wider audience with its less-costly new products, both Chevy and Ford, two brands usually known as targeting the masses, are taking their lineups in a distinctly upscale direction. Cars like the Ford Fiesta, Chevrolet Cruze and new Ford Focus all sport their share of premium pretensions, and I’ll point out that the Chevrolet Malibu has the highest base price of any of those mid-size sedans I mentioned above.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this, but if brands like Ford and Chevy aren’t reaching buyers who are willing to trade content for price—and there are still plenty—than which brand will?
Well, maybe it will be Volkswagen.