What Does The Jetta Sales Success Say About Automotive Journalism?

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
what does the jetta sales success say about automotive journalism
  • “All of Volkswagen’s premium-enthusiast Euro-appeal has been stripped from the Jetta”
  • “The new model has hard plastic that wouldn’t look too out of place in a Chrysler Sebring”
  • “Gone are the things that made the Jetta special to those who cared”
  • “For the Jetta, it’s pay less and you get less. And in our opinion, that’s a step backwards”

There’s your verdict, straight from TTAC, C/D, LLN, and Edmunds respectively.

Jetta sales, first half 2011: 91,752, an increase of well over sixty percent over 2010

There’s another verdict, straight from the people who actually matter.

Does the first verdict refute the second — or support it?

Regular TTAC readers know how cozy, and incestuous, the relationship between automotive journalism, marketing, and product design can be. While it’s common for the buffet-browsing brigade to piss and moan about how everything would be fine if GM/Ford/Skoda/Bugatti would just listen to them and release a whole lineup of manual-transmission subcompact diesel wagons with active aero and hand-sewn ostrich-leather interiors, the fact of the matter is that plenty of cars are designed and/or tweaked with at least a passing thought to the whims and wishes of journalists.

Volkswagen, in particular, is known for making product decisions in the hopes of appealing to its “enthusiast” base and the media mouthpieces which claim to represent it. The problem, of course, is that doing so is almost always a mistake. Consider, if you will, the MkIV Golf R32. Volkswagen brought the car over as a love letter to its most devoted fans… who let them sit on the lots until the tires flat-spotted. The R32 ended up being a used-car-market superstar, often selling to its second owner for more than the first owner paid. VW could, and should have realized that this revealed an essential truth about the “enthusiast buyers”: they buy used, when they buy at all.

Instead, VW decided to repeat its mistake and bring the car over a second time in MkV guise. This completely hilarious “review” written before the car’s actual introduction is a perfect unintentional self-parody of the VW “enthusiast” market, and it’s worth reading for any number of reasons, but I’ll excerpt the relevant bits for those of you who are short on time.

This 2008 model is an R32 in name only.

Clearly Patrick Paternie of Autoweek Magazine (the author) and apparently every suit at VWoA seem to think that they know what VW enthusiasts want, yet they could not be more clueless than if they were a bunch of blind, drunk elephants stumbling around inside a china shop.

Yes, the 20004 R32 had incredible looks, it drove as well if not better than cars costing 4x as much. The .:R’s exhaust note was nearly orgasmic. It simply OOZED testosterone. It was a guys car. It was a beast.

VW owners are more educated and have more refined tastes than any other group of brand owners out there

They even removed the dual exhaust (and I did not believe this was even possible) and swapped it for a set of pipes that resembled a woman’s vagina comparatively speaking. It was like the Grinch had marched into R32 Town and stolen Christmas.

In conclusion, the new R32 may sell well, but I can tell you that most of us in the Vortex community who actually own or owned the 2004 R32 will not be buying it because we realize just how much we will be sacrificing in the process.

Pay very close attention to the next quote, because it’s critical. I’ve even highlighted the relevant section for you. I’m helpful like that.

Yet, if I had 33K dollars, I might consider buying the 2008 R32 if the car offered a driving experience superior to the 2004 model.

Yes, and if I had a hundred million dollars I might consider running a Daytona Prototype team where all the cars were vinyl-wrapped with an original piece of erotic line art, created by yours truly a few years ago in a drunken fit, depicting a “Titanic”-era Kate Winslet kneeling topless in front of me while I scored a million points at “Galaga”.

You would think that Volkswagen would get tired of letting people who don’t buy cars at all, or don’t buy their cars until they are five years old dictate their product strategy. Pas du tout. The second-generation R32 was also showroom poison. Oops.

In fairness, there is one group of VW enthusiasts who vote with their wallets at new-car showrooms, and that is the TDI crowd. They buy the cars new, and they buy as many of them as they can collectively afford. Trouble is, that doesn’t account for very many units. It’s impossible to run a nationwide dealer network on diesel-wagon volume. It takes six-figure mojo and plenty of it. This isn’t the America, or the economy, which supported Max Hoffmann towing one Beetle with another one to a dealer a thousand miles away and taking the train home. This is the America that closed the doors on Oldsmobile because they couldn’t break the 500k mark in annual sales.

The new Jetta and Passat reflect Volkswagen’s long-overdue comprehension of the above facts. Instead of being aimed at mommy’s-basement types who would totally buy an R36 Turbo ten years from now if it depreciates heavily, the new line is designed, equipped, and priced for people who actually buy cars. And — surprise! — people are buying them. This guy may never buy a 2011 Jetta. VW has ceased caring about that guy.

I have come up with two interpretations for the success of the 2011 Jetta, and I’m going to ask you to choose one of the two, or suggest an alternate theory, in the comments.

Scenario #1: The new Jetta is succeeding because it is the right car, at the right price, for people who buy cars in that segment. Those people don’t want a miniature FWD S-Class. They just want a nice Jetta they can afford. This is the “Autojournos don’t know” scenario, by the way.

Scenario The new Jetta is trading on the reputation, and prestige, of the Euro-cred MkIV and MkV. Buyers are too stupid to realize that they are getting the dumbed-down bargain version. When they find out, they will abandon the cars, and the brand, forever, and VW will actually be forced to bury the entire Chattanooga factory in the same place Atari put the million unsold “E.T.” cartridges back in 1981. This is the “Autojournos DO know” scenario.

My vote is for #1. There was a time, during the fifteen years when I owned everything from a single 1990 Fox to a pair of V8 Phaetons, that I would have desperately cared about which scenario is correct. It’s academic to me now. So let’s hear what you think, okay?

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  • Otaku Otaku on Jul 15, 2011

    I seem to recall Mr. Baruth writing a similar article a while back regarding the poor reception of the 2008 Ford Focus by the majority of the automotive press: http://www.speedsportlife.com/2008/05/29/avoidable-contact-12-why-the-motoring-press-cant-even-focus-on-its-own-astra/ I can still remember when everyone dissed and dismissed the 2008 Focus as a piece of junk, which, speaking as the proud owner of an '08 SE Coupe, never made a bit of sense to me. I purchased mine used for a very reasonable price about two years ago and have been very impressed by its comfort, refinement, dependability and fuel economy. In my humble opinion, it deserved a heck of a lot more respect than it ever received. Personally, I'm somewhat conflicted about this new Jetta. On the one hand, I don't like the idea of all the self-appointed/annointed so-called "experts" unfairly slamming this car just because it happens to be targeted at consumers with less money to throw around. Yet, at the same time I can't help but wonder whether it offers as much value overall (at least in the less expensive base version) when compared to the similarly un-loved 2008-2010 Focus. I'm pretty sure the base model 2008 thru 2010 Focus was slightly less expensive, lighter and more fuel efficient than the current base Jetta. Plus, it offered a more powerful, class competitive, all aluminum two-liter engine and fully independent rear suspension as standard equipment. I even find much of the new Jetta's chunky, angular sheetmetal (especially in the front fascia and profile) to be a fairly derivative retread of lines already used on my Focus. The only areas where the Jetta appears to offer more bang for the buck are in rear seat passenger space and trunk size. I don't have any empirical data for a comparison of the these two makes in terms of frequency of repairs/maintenance costs, etc. All I can say is that I've owned Fords for most of my life and they've all had pretty damn good track records in this area, so I had no worries about dependability when I bought my Focus. Conversely, I've heard a whole bunch of horror stories from Volkswagen owners over the years that would really make me think twice about purchasing ANY of their models, let alone one of the new budget-oriented offerings. So, what's the verdict? I can't really say for sure, but I have my share of doubts. Volkswagen's marketing guys want people to perceive the new Jetta a good economy car alternative at a relatively low price, but if the reality ends up being that you have to shell out significantly more than its base price if you want something on par with the competition, possessing half-decent reliability, then it might not be quite the bargain they're making it out to be.

  • Wheatridger Wheatridger on Jul 15, 2011

    This has to be a better strategy than VW's upscale ambitions of a decade ago. Most sales gained, I'd bet, came from Audi. VW was chasing its own tail, and if they had succeeded, they might have self-cannibalized. The world needs a good, cheap Volkswagen for "the folks." Maybe this is it, I hope so.

  • Nrd515 I bought an '88 S10 Blazer with the 4.3. We had it 4 years and put just about 48K on it with a bunch of trips to Nebraska and S. Dakota to see relatives. It had a couple of minor issues when new, a piece of trim fell off the first day, and it had a seriously big oil leak soon after we got it. The amazinly tiny starter failed at about 40K, it was fixed under some sort of secret warranty and we got a new Silverado as a loaner. Other than that, and a couple of tires that blew when I ran over some junk on the road, it was a rock. I hated the dash instrumentation, and being built like a gorilla, it was about an inch and a half too narrow for my giant shoulders, but it drove fine, and was my second most trouble free vehicle ever, only beaten by my '82 K5 Blazer, which had zero issues for nearly 50K miles. We sold the S10 to a friend, who had it over 20 years and over 400,000 miles on the original short block! It had a couple of transmissions, a couple of valve jobs, a rear end rebuild at 300K, was stolen and vandalized twice, cut open like a tin can when a diabetic truck driver passed out(We were all impressed at the lack of rust inside the rear quarters at almost 10 years old, and it just went on and on. Ziebart did a good job on that Blazer. All three of his sons learned to drive in it, and it was only sent to the boneyard when the area above the windshield had rusted to the point it was like taking a shower when it rained. He now has a Jeep that he's put a ton of money into. He says he misses the S10's reliablity a lot these days, the Jeep is in the shop a lot.
  • Jeff S Most densely populated areas have emission testing and removing catalytic converters and altering pollution devices will cause your vehicle to fail emission testing which could effect renewing license plates. In less populated areas where emission testing is not done there would probably not be any legal consequences and the converter could either be removed or gutted both without having to buy specific parts for bypassing emissions. Tampering with emission systems would make it harder to resell a vehicle but if you plan on keeping the vehicle and literally running it till the wheels fall off there is not much that can be done if there is no emission testing. I did have a cat removed on a car long before mandatory emission testing and it did get better mpgs and it ran better. Also had a cat gutted on my S-10 which was close to 20 years old which increased performance and efficiency but that was in a state that did not require emission testing just that reformulated gas be sold during the Summer months. I would probably not do it again because after market converters are not that expensive on older S-10s compared to many of the newer vehicles. On newer vehicles it can effect other systems that are related to the operating and the running of the vehicle. A little harder to defeat pollution devices on newer vehicles with all the systems run by microprocessors but if someone wants to do it they can. This law could be addressing the modified diesels that are made into coal rollers just as much as the gasoline powered vehicles with cats. You probably will still be able to buy equipment that would modify the performance of a vehicles as long as the emission equipment is not altered.
  • ToolGuy I wonder if Vin Diesel requires DEF.(Does he have issues with Sulfur in concentrations above 15ppm?)
  • ToolGuy Presented for discussion: https://xroads.virginia.edu/~Hyper2/thoreau/civil.html
  • Kevin Ford can do what it's always done. Offer buyouts to retirement age employees, and transfers to operating facilities to those who aren't retirement age. Plus, the transition to electric isn't going to be a finger snap one time event. It's going to occur over a few model years. What's a more interesting question is: Where will today's youth find jobs in the auto industry given the lower employment levels?