By on August 5, 2012

Scirocco? Polo? Up!? Nope. An interview with VW of America’s VP of Marketing and Strategy reveals that you’ll have to keep waiting for any of those products. 

Motor Trend’s interview with Rainer Michel ticks nearly every box on the “forbidden euro fruit” list of VW products. But Volkswagen keeps coming back to two products; the Passat and Jetta, the vulgarized, Americanized sedans that are doing quite well. The two three-box four-doors are driving VW’s growth Stateside, and the company looks committed to supporting them, before bringing over the kinds of products that endeared the company to enthusiasts, but provided little traction in the marketplace.

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58 Comments on “Volkswagen of America Says Passat And Jetta Uber Alles...”


  • avatar
    LeeK

    Despite universally negative reviews, the American public ignored the advice in droves and propped up VW’s anemic sales on the Jetta. I guess the marketing guys were right. Who knew?

    The GLI has gotten strong positive recommendations right here at TTAC. The new Passat won a comparo in Car and Driver and a favorable review from Consumer Reports. The question, as always, is whether quality can be maintained. Only time will tell, but True Delta’s numbers are reporting “average” overall, which with today’s cars, is quite good overall.

    Cue the inevitable VW horror stories that this topic always seems to engender…

    • 0 avatar
      Mr Nosy

      Not having owned a VW,the only horror I see is TTAC equating Motor Trend with,say,Playboy.We all know you read one for the articles,and the other one you look at for a more revealing shot or two you may have missed elsewhere in TopGear,Evo,Autoweek,etc. VW may think its found the magic formula for mainstream Top 10 success,but in a roundabout way,the comments below have pointed out that bland works for awhile,but it won’t attract those people who DON’T buy Playboy for the articles.Chevy and Ford,through all their egregious missteps, still made Corvettes and Mustangs.Nissan also figured this out,a few years back.

  • avatar
    Polar Bear

    It is spelled “Volkswagen up!” with a lower case u. The marketing people who come up! with these names must be overpaid.

    • 0 avatar
      Synchromesh

      I think it’s the engineering people at VW who are way overpaid. The cars they create are pure crap and I’ll be damned before I give even $1 to VW for any of so called “cars” that they make.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        I see the biggest diversion of strategy amongst the largest automakers now than I have in a long time.

        There are essentially two camps, as follows (speaking of high volume automakers):

        1) Using the same fundamental platform, perform modifications that platform in order to tailor it to a particular nation’s/continent’s consumer tastes, and ruthlessly weed out unnecessary processes and substitute less expensive materials and components (with an emphasis on those in the areas that won’t be readily apparent to the end consumer by appearance or even typical driving), and charge less in inflation-adjusted terms (and even, in some cases, nominal terms) for that product.

        This could almost be termed ‘reverse badge engineering.’

        Prime example of this strategy: B7 Volkswagen Passat for North America.

        Toyota has adopted this strategy, as well, and Hyundai has had this as its modus operandi for the last 7 years.

        2) Attempt to differentiate one’s vehicles from the competition in such a way that consumers are willing to pay premium prices for them, even though there is less differentiation of the product based on local consumer tastes and preferences, and a more ‘global’ and ‘standardized’ vehicle is the end result, with price point boiling down more so to what category of vehicle each consumer can afford (i.e. subcompact, compact, midsized, etc.) rather than based on vehicles aggressively tailored (and decontented) to local preferences.

        Prime example of this strategy: Ford Motor Company with its ‘one world’ meme and global car platform.

        At least in North America, I am literally betting on the first strategy to succeed, and the latter strategy to falter, and as a natural consequence, we are about to witness the VWs and Toyotas stealing market share of the Fords of the world (and not just in North America).

        In this age of easily accessed and widely available accurate information, marketing slogans (e.g. “ecoboost”) and badge engineering will be rejected by informed consumers.

      • 0 avatar
        MBsam

        Yeah, because Subaru is really “killing it” bahahaha.

      • 0 avatar
        Viquitor

        @DeadWeight: while I second almost everything you said, allow me do disagree on the badge engineering and the “informed consumers” parts. The average car buyer don’t care that much about badge engineering, most people don’t even notice it. What they do care about is apparent value – that’s the name of the game.

        The problem with badge engineering most times is that the apparent value is lost on the lack of differentiation. If the products are alike and the price is the same, people will go for it because the car itself is appealing enough, and will settle for the better selling attitude, the better or closer dealer, the one that pays more money on their used car, the better deal.

        That was the case with Plymouth and Dodge minivans in the early 90′s. And it is precisely what we see with the Scio FR-S and its Subaru counterpart.

        If there’s a relevant MSRP difference, then the perception of value has to be built over the differences – one vehicle has to be “more premium” than the other, or have more brand recognition. A Dodge guy must feel inside of a proper Dodge when sitting at the wheel of a Charger, even if on its essence a Charger is not more than a Chrysler 300. Or a richer guy must feel that going for the Lincoln instead of the Ford Titanium is worth the extra dollars.

        Fail at that, and the whole thing falls appart.

        My point is:

        a) most consumers are not that informed, even on the internet age; and

        b) badge engineering itself is not harmful, but it has to be done properly.

      • 0 avatar
        th009

        That’s really it: perceived value is what really matters, regardless of how the manufacturer gets there.

  • avatar
    Toucan

    Very good decision.

    Polo around 100HP is exclusively turbocharged and direct injected TSI. Autobox is a 7 speed double clutch. Interior is high-grade. Meanwhile, the US subcompact buyer demands a turd can with his Walmart change sufficient for MSRP.

    Fiesta sales have been pathetic. Ford expelled a huge cloud of marketing farts, none if which actually combusted.

    Why would anyone want a small car in the States anyway. Gas is cheap, street are wide, towering SUVs are everywhere.

    This is the car to bring stateside:
    bimmerboost.com/images/touaregcc.jpg

    • 0 avatar

      This is the car to bring stateside:
      bimmerboost.com/images/touaregcc.jpg

      Knowing Volkswagen, they’ll probably do just that and people will snap them up. It’s all about making those dollars, folks.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      The Fiesta sales have hardly been horrible. It’s generally mid pack in the class, and averages about what Honda does with the Fit. The Versa (and inexplicably the Sonic) are somehow leading the segment.

      • 0 avatar
        MLS

        I think the Versa’s success is more inexplicable than the Sonic’s.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        I am assuming Nullo was thinking that at least the Versa has large interior room as a reason for its sales success. The Sonic doesn’t and it styling etc may mean it is doing well initially but then falls away, kind of like the Cube and Leaf did (different segments, but started string then quickly faded).

      • 0 avatar
        Toucan

        @NulloModo

        I didn’t mean the sales per se but the overall disappointment with the volume of subcompact cars. This plus buyer’s expectations in this segment exclude the Polo.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        I can’t believe that people still buy Daewoods.

      • 0 avatar
        Duncan

        As a frequent renter of bottom shelf cars, I’m surprised by how much better of an impression a bare bones Versa makes than a similarly equipped Yaris, Focus, Mazda 2, etc.

        I never thought I’d like a Versa or CVT, but compared to the cheapest of the competition, it really shines. I don’t know how a Focus Platinum performs, but I’m shocked how poor an SE example of a universally well reviewed vehicle performs as a rental. 21 mpg on half a tank (including 130 miles on the highway) and a left knee cap repeatedly bruised on the headlight switch which inexplicably juts into the passenger compartment.

      • 0 avatar
        bd2

        The Sonic is a pretty fun drive and doesn’t have the issues that the Fiesta has.

      • 0 avatar
        Volts On Fire

        Bottom-tier cars for bottom-tier customers. Let them drive Daewoos.

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t know of any issues with Fiesta, but Sonic was shipped and delivered without brake pads on occasion, which counts as an issue for me.

      • 0 avatar
        mic

        Hey, I have a 2010 Versa Hatch 6 speed and you can’t really beat it for the price ($11,700) and the quality the hatch has. I have 46k trouble free miles and it rides very well. Inexpensive doesn’t always mean cheap!

      • 0 avatar
        NulloModo

        I have no issue with the Versa as it is what it is – inexpensive, basic, and roomy. Nissan saw a niche there in the subcompact segment and went for it, and so far it’s been working out for them.

        The Fiesta issues with the transmission lead wire and fuel level sensor were early on and fixed quickly.

        The biggest competition for the Fiesta now is the Focus. It’s only a grand or two more to upgrade to a larger nicer car. When the Fiesta launched against the old style Focus the Fiesta has the edge in refinement and interior quality, now that the Focus has been redone and the fuel economy is virtually identical the only reason to go for the Fiesta over the Focus is if price is absolutely your only concern.

      • 0 avatar
        bd2

        “Bottom-tier cars for bottom-tier customers. Let them drive Daewoos.”

        – These days, that would be the Nissan Versa (and maybe the Toyota Yaris), if you don’t count the few Suzukis and Mitsus that people still buy.

      • 0 avatar
        Dr. Claw

        @Duncan… right on about that “kneecap on the headlight switch” comment. That was an immediate annoyance upon my first few times in the new Focus.

    • 0 avatar
      icemilkcoffee

      “Why would anyone want a small car in the States anyway”

      Because tastes change all the time. The original VW Beetle was the best selling import here in the US for over a dozen years straight. The interior of the old bug was smaller than any of today’s sub-compacts. The Honda Civic and the Toyota Corolla took over in the 70′s. The original Civic was smaller than today’s Mini in every dimension. In the 80′s, the For dEscort was the best selling car for a spell.

      You see- it wasn’t always SUV’s. Don’t count on the reign of SUV’s to continue on forever.

  • avatar
    Rday

    I was a good and loyal VW customer for many years. I finally got tired of being ripped off by these characters. They have fun to drive cars but I don’t trust them on reliability. Toyota and the rest of the Japanese and Koreans just know how to take care of their customers. I am tired of taking chances with companies that don’t seem to care.

  • avatar
    FromaBuick6

    Journalists and forum rats really need to get over the fact that most Americans prefer somewhat bland, soft, cheap front wheel drive sedans and fat status-symbol CUVs.

    After seeing all the scathing reviews and gloating from the haters, the strong sales of the cheapened VWs (and Honda Civics) has been downright hilarious.

    VW tried the high-content route for a decade. It failed miserably because the cars were too expensive to build and/or too expensive to sell. They’ve also marketed hatchbacks and wagons continuously since the ’60s; The sales have been terrible since the ’80s. Save for a small group of Europhiles who can’t swing the payment on a prestige brand, the market just isn’t there.

    Of course, Ford now thinks it “Has a Better Idea,” and is going to sell Euro-market and Euro-themed cars in the U.S., complete with Euro-pricetags. This has been lauded as brilliant by both the press and the internet, who have apparently forgotten how poorly VW faired, or Ford’s own Contour and Merkur XR4ti. Time will tell, but if they’re as wrong about Ford as they were about VW, the next few years will be interesting.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      Toyota and Honda also tried the high-content route for a decade. It resulted in roaring sales growth, transaction prices and profits that were much higher than Detroit’s class average, and brand reputations so stellar that both makes are still able to coast on them today despite rampant decontenting that’s gone largely unnoticed since then by the sheeple.

      Today, Hyundai and Kia are trying the high-content route. They have gone from laughingstocks to best-sellers that command Japan-like prices.

      VW tried the route of high perceived content achieved with bubble gum, Krazy glue, duct tape and spit. (See Baruth’s recent Passat GOAT review.) When the cars inevitably broke, they tried the route of telling the buyers to go apply synthetic lubricant to themselves, as I can attest from personal proctological experience. This approach worked less well.

      • 0 avatar
        FromaBuick6

        Oddly enough, the Toyota Camry sold better than ever after they drastically decontented and slashed the price for 1997. As good as the ’92-’96 car was, it was so expensive that it had my longtime Camry/Corona-driving parents looking at Corollas before eventually going for a Honda Accord.

        Honda, for their part, started cutting cost in 1996 when the Civic and Accord lost their fancy trunklid struts that 98% of buyers never noticed. The 5th generation versions of those cars were real jewels, but they were presumably too expensive to produce and 15 years of steady decontenting without putting a dent in sales (the steady uglification of Hondas is another story) once again shows that nobody cares.

        Hyundai and Kia aren’t any higher-content than their competitors. The Sonatas I’ve been in feel like Camry doppelgangers in every way. The used to compete on price and warranty, now they compete on being the equal of Toyota, no more, no less.

        The B5 Passat and MKIV were horridly unreliable and created lifetime VW enemies out of many of the people who bought them, but that’s not why those cars ultimately failed. They failed because they were so much more expensive than the cars they nominally competed with, that most people never bothered to buy them in the first place.

      • 0 avatar
        Toucan

        Interesting stories being shared here, FromaBuick6.

        I once read on a local social forum an anecdotal mention from someone knowing a chef of an engineering team at Ford, responsible for preparing the European first gen Focus for the launch stateside.

        The team only had ONE GOAL. To reduce manufacturing price of the car about 30-40%.

        Reminds me about some Top Gear film: youtube.com/watch?v=XzjgZpfVcxc

      • 0 avatar
        bd2

        Yep, FromaBuick6 is correct.

        The Camry and Accord started selling even better as they got progressively larger and decontented.

        Toyota has kept the price down on the “new” Camry and its dealers are engaging in aggressice discounts; the Camry is selling more than ever on price (same goes for the current Corolla which is basically now a discount special – having an average transaction price that is $1,500 less than the Elantra).

        And it’s not just Ford attempting the “one-world” model that VW abandoned, GM is doing it as well w/ the Sonic, Cruze and Malibu (hence, the tigher rear seating in the Cruze and Malibu compared to the competition w/ Ford models having the same issue).

      • 0 avatar
        FromaBuick6

        @Toucan: I remember reading in one of the print rags years ago that Ford’s profit margins on the North American Focus in the early-mid ’00s was in the two figure range. That’s why we got facelifts of the original while Europe got an all-new car. I also remember hearing that the ugly ’08 facelift ended up costing Ford more than federalizing the Euro car would have.

        Amazingly, all of this pales compared to the supposed $2k GM lost on every W-Body.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      “They’ve also marketed hatchbacks and wagons continuously since the ’60s”

      I don’t beleive they made a hatchback at that point, the reason that the Type 3 didn’t sell well were its wonky weight distribution, ease of rusting, tiny engine bays, and lack of unique styling like the Beetle.

      As for todays bland sedans I don’t mind them, I grew up thinking that a good sedan used modest styling and had room for everything, you don’t need silly aggressive styling (Daewood Cruze).

      CUVs on the other hand are just Station Wagons for saps.

  • avatar
    cyberc9000

    I’m glad I picked up the MkVI Golf GTI instead of waiting. Polo/Scirocco/etc clearly aren’t in the cards for North America, and I fear the MkVII Golf may suffer the same fate as the Jetta/Passat when it makes its way stateside.

    • 0 avatar
      hreardon

      Actually, vehicles like the Golf and the CC should be safe from de-contenting, especially the forthcoming Golf 7.

      First, Volkswagen knows they can sell these models for a premium to the niche segment that will pay the premium.

      Second, the forthcoming MQB based Golf has allowed VW to carve something like 30% from the manufacturing cost of the car.

      Third, word is that VW is going to begin Golf production at Puebla in the not too distant future, which should help drive down the cost of North American delivered Golfs.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    VW want’s to be number 1 and they will not get their by making a Scirocco and bringing Polos to the US.

    • 0 avatar
      MeaCulpa

      I don’t think so, the margins are to small in the US if you aim for the no 1 spot as you’ll have to compete with price against the beige sedans and almost require a car that will repulse the rest of the world (i’m looking at you camry).

  • avatar
    SuperACG

    Looks like I learned something else from Bertel. Looked up “Uber Alles” and found the German National Anthem on YouTube! Also explains the scene from last year’s show “Pan Am.”

    • 0 avatar

      It’s the generation gap. Back in the day, everyone knew at least one German phrase: “Nicht Schissen, Herr Offizer!”. Very useful, too. And of course the tidbits like Deuchland Uber Alles, Auswaiss, Schmeisser and Gazwagen. These days, not so much. Maybe Oktoberfest, if that.

      • 0 avatar
        SuperACG

        Just realized that Derek wrote this article, not Bertel. Also could be geographical. Here in Southern California, you HAVE to know a few phrases in Spanish.

  • avatar
    Luke42

    It’s been about a decade since my 2001 VW Jetta with the 01M automatic transmission was built. What has Volkswagen done to improve their reliability and/or repairability to match that of American and Japanese manufacturers?

    Ten years is enough time to recognize the problem, solve it, and design a new generation of cars that reflect the improvements. I want to love Volkswagen’s vehicles, but I can’t risk it until they’really comparable to, say, GM in terms of reliability… Fix this, though, and there’s a lot to like about, say, a Jetta Sportwagen.

    • 0 avatar
      hreardon

      I know I sound like an apologist, but Volkswagen has made major strides in overall QC over the last ten years.

      The big problem back in the 1998-2004 period was Volkswagen’s unrelenting drive to push down component costs from suppliers. IIRC, Jose Ignacio Lopez was ruthless in pushing down costs – but the result was peeling buttons, failing components and…well, junk. The MK V vehicles were a major improvement, MK VI more still. Let’s hope the track record continues in the upward trajectory.

    • 0 avatar
      icemilkcoffee

      They recognize the problem alright- that’s why they’ve dumped the auto trans in favor of the much more complex and untested DSG trans!

  • avatar
    karlbonde

    I bought a used 1987 Scirocco 16v around 1994, and I miss it dearly. My last VW was a 24-valve MK4 GTI VR6, and I’ve never driven the newer models (Mk5 & Mk6), which are supposedly much better handling and more fun to drive (except for the non-defeatable stability control).

    That said, I just put the first 400 miles on my new Scion FR-S yesterday driving around the south side of Mt. Saint Helens, and it reminded more of my Scirocco than anything else I’ve driven in the past 15 years: lack of torque at low RPM, great MPG, great handling with skinny tires, non-existent back seat, and it looks pretty cool. The lack of a sunroof on the FR-S is a bonus – my head would hit the ceiling on the Scirocco (when equipped with a sunroof), and I can’t image trying to fit while wearing a helmet.

    I wish they offered the new Scirocco in the U.S. – I would have definitely tried it prior to purchasing an FR-S. Nothing against the GTI/GLI, but I was actually looking for a two-door wedge-style coupe this time.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    The cost cutting works for me if it means lower prices and more attention to the stuff that matters on the car.

    My only problem is the “single platform” strategy, it’ll be nice by being able to use the same parts in different cars but they’ll all be the same.

    By the way, does anyone sell cars with spares anymore?

  • avatar
    Number6

    Can’t wait to see how the COO changes once these boat-anchors are off warranty….

  • avatar
    myleftfoot

    I test drove a Passat tdi manual. Three things impressed me:

    1. The back seat room is amazing.
    2. There is ample trunk space even though leg room in front and back is ample.
    3. It was easy to shift through the gears.

    My commute is mostly short and I do not take too many long trips, though. I think having a diesel for short trips does not take full advantage of its great highway mileage capability, so I’m looking at a Volt instead.

    Sadly, I can’t have both which would take care of everything!

  • avatar
    boxelder

    Just did a bunch of test drives with my parents the past few days. They’re both in their early 70s, and of increasing importance is ease of entry and exit. Being of Germanic descent we wished to give the Passat a try, although they’ve been driving Civics for decades. We’re all tall folk (I’m 6’4″ and my dad’s 6’2″), and even considering the sheer size of the Passat both my father and I bumped our heads even with added neck craning on entry to the front seats. Once in the front seats, room is good. The back seat is a breeze to get into and out of, and there’s acres of legroom, but my head was grazing the ceiling. Sigh. The good ‘ole Honda Accord has much more headroom in the back, and it’s also much easier to enter and exit the front seats for the aging crowd. I don’t know who redesigned the Camry recently but the glove box door comes shockingly close to the shins. Being a Subaru fan, I also had them try the Legacy. The CVT was a deal-breaker, and my dad came up with the “slipping clutch” analogy all on his own. I tried to explain the mechanics of it, but he was not impressed. “A snowmobile transmission?!” Back at the VW dealer, the young salesman was throwing around a suggested mileage (not written down of course, that may be legally binding…) “Mid-30s for the 5-cylinder (Power of a 6, fuel economy of a 4!!!)” like popcorn even though the Monroney clearly showed a combined average of 25. I hate liars. Also, the bugger overused the word “Leatherette” like it was going out of style until I made him admit it was actually just grained and perforated vinyl. “Leatherette” the word should be outlawed as deceptive marketing. He also claimed they don’t work on commission. Anyone know if that is true? And if so, how are they paid? One last note, there was a big stink a while back regarding the Passat’s trunk goose neck hinge plastic covers. I’m reporting one Mit plastic guard on the left (driver’s side) hinge which hides and protects a lighting wire, but the right goose neck is naked as a jaybird. Ohne plastic.

    • 0 avatar
      icemilkcoffee

      Seems like you need to be looking at CUV’s if you need the upright ingress/egress and head room.

      • 0 avatar
        boxelder

        Yes, exactly. I very highly recommended one of those to them, but my mother wants “A Nice Car” which to her means “Sedan”. End of the line for the more practical Forester, which I did indeed push hard for. Speaking of which, Honda should be ashamed about the negligible rear-quarter visibility in the new CR-V. Borderline criminal.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      Or maybe adjust the seat height down? Unless you are super long in the torso, there should be plenty of headroom in the front. (Back seat might be tight a 6’4 with a long torso, though.)

      • 0 avatar
        boxelder

        We tried all manner of permutations with the seat height adjustment regarding ease of entry/exit. While it did indeed help the headroom issue entering the Passat, after driving, my mother would always have to remember to pre-set the seat to the lowered position in case my father would be driving next. It’s just not going to happen. The Accord was simply the best sedan overall as far as ease of entry/exit for all of us. I still wish I could talk them into the Forester, as during the test drive they both simply backed into the seats and turned to face the wheel, no falling into a low seat, no neck craning, and it’s just as easy to get out of. Visibility in the Forester is currently the best of ANY new vehicle I’ve seen lately, to boot. Naturally, it’s not as quiet or luxurious as the Accord SE they’re gravitating towards, but the all wheel drive would certainly come in handy in the Wisconsin winters. Too bad the Forester doesn’t fall into the category of “A Nice Car” in their minds…

  • avatar
    danwat1234

    While I would love to see a 1.2 Liter VW Polo TDI hybrid or Passat/Jetta Hybrid, utilizing the power from the electric motors to increase acceleration that would otherwise be crappy with a 1.2L diesel, and getting great fuel economy because of the small TDI, I don’t think they’ll do it. Too much cost for emissions controls of the diesel + the hybrid powertrain.

    More than likely we won’t be seeing any good increases in MPG with the brand until HCCI gas engines come out..


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