The good news? Volkswagen of America sold more new vehicles in February 2016 than the company managed to sell in January 2016.
The bad news? Improving upon January’s results was a given. February volume was significantly stronger across the industry, just as it always is. Even as industry-wide sales grew 17 percent compared with January, Volkswagen sales grew 11 percent. And while the industry surged to its best February results since 2001, Volkswagen brand sales still fell to the lowest February total in five years.
As passenger car sales dipped ever so slightly in February, sliding by just about a half a percentage point compared with February 2015, Volkswagen’s car volume was down 20 percent. After claiming a disastrously low 1.75-percent market share in January 2016, the Volkswagen brand contributed only 1.66 percent of the auto industry’s total volume in February 2016.
The diesel emissions scandal, which erupted last September, was not the beginning of Volkswagen’s U.S. sales troubles. Volkswagen’s February sales have fallen in three consecutive years, sliding 29 percent since 2013. But with the brand’s dealers severely limited in terms of a product lineup, a reputation tarnished by cheating — there’s apparently nothing worse — and a pregnant pause before new in-demand vehicles are launched, these winter blues are not the end of Volkswagen’s U.S. sales troubles, either.
Regardless of timing, the sight of Volkswagen’s February sales results are uncomfortable to behold. Here’s a model-by-model perusal across the Volkswagen spectrum.
If the original New Beetle was a harbinger of success in the late ’90s, its successor’s surprisingly effective launch in late 2011 was not. Two-door hatchbacks with limited flexibility and styling, which were all the rage when a Clinton was in the White House, are not the type of cars a brand can rely on for volume.
Combined sales of the Beetle Coupe and Beetle Convertible in February 2016 were chopped in half, falling to only 912 units, just the second (and second consecutive) three-digit sales month since the car was launched in September 2011.
This has nothing to do with diesel unavailability. The CC was never marketed in the United States with a diesel engine. Instead, the CC is simply ancient. CC sales began in late 2008. An average of 2,146 CCs per month left dealers between 2009 and 2012. CC volume plunged 40 percent to 251 units in February 2016.
Why was the Eos’s previously terminated lifespan temporarily extended through the 2016 model year? Duh, in order to take the extremely lucrative Floridian fight to the Buick Cascada. (Not really.) Volkswagen sold 110 copies of the Eos in February 2016, a 7-percent year-over-year drop equal to eight lost sales. Oh, and Buick reported 495 Cascada sales in February; 583 to date.
If the Beetle, CC, and Eos are scarcely consequential examples of Volkswagen’s downturn, the Golf lies at the heart of the matter. Total Golf family volume was down 7 percent in February, a stark contradiction given the 5-percent uptick achieved by America’s compact car market last month. But the bulk of the Golf’s volume continues to be produced outside of the presumed core of the Golf lineup. Three-quarters of total Golf volume in February was generated by the GTI, Golf R, e-Golf, and new Golf SportWagen.
Only 887 “conventional” Golf hatchbacks were sold in February, a 46-percent year-over-year decline.
Context? Uncommon cars that were more commonly acquired in February include the Mitsubishi Mirage, Toyota Prius V, Nissan Armada, Land Rover LR4, Lexus RC, Ford Taurus Police Interceptor, and yes, the Volkswagen Beetle.
Volkswagen’s best-selling model lost 13 percent of its February volume. Granted, a chunk of those lost sales were of the wagon variety. (The Golf Sportwagen’s February 2016 performance was 7 percent better than the Jetta SportWagen’s February 2015 performance.) Jetta sedan volume slid 8 percent to 9,375 units last month. Given the outright loss of TDI sales, this isn’t a disastrous result for a five-year-old car. Incentives help.
Volkswagen reported 4,380 Passat sales in February 2016, a 31-percent drop for America’s tenth-best-selling midsize car. Passat sales were in perpetual decline before the TDI failure last year. February sales in 2013 were down 8 percent, February 2014 volume then fell 7 percent, and Passat sales fell 10 percent in February 2015. Put these figures together and you see that Passat sales last month weren’t simply down 31 percent compared with February 2015; Passat sales were little more than half what they were four years ago. Volkswagen is currently on pace to sell fewer than 50,000 Passats in America this year, down from more than 100,000 in 2012 and 2013.
Volkswagen’s SUV strategy appeared to be working for a brief moment. Nearly 28,000 Touaregs were sold in 2004. But the brand’s upmarket predilections didn’t match consumer desires, and Touareg volume declined. Touareg sales are down 15 percent this year but slid only 2 percent in February. At only 403 units, February 2016’s Touareg performance is compared to February 2015, when Touareg sales had fallen to a 52-month low, well in advance of the diesel emissions scandal.
Sadly, Volkswagen’s bright light is the brand’s low-volume compact crossover. Yes, Tiguan sales are improving markedly, shooting up 78 percent in February after successive increases in each of the previous 11 months and an all-time monthly record in December. But the Tiguan, set to be replaced soon by an already revealed model, remains an exceedingly low-volume utility vehicle by the standards of its competitors.
Volkswagen reported only 3,245 Tiguan sales in February – top-selling competitors from Toyota, Honda, Ford, and Nissan all topped the 20,000 sale benchmark last month.
[Images: Volkswagen of America]