Contrast: Volkswagen's U.S. Outpost Struggles As Volkswagen Canada Booms

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain

Following 18 consecutive months of year-over-year decline, U.S. sales at the Volkswagen brand have improved in six of the last nine months.

Yet those U.S. sales improvements send up deceiving smoke signals. While Volkswagen’s volume increased 6 percent in June, for example, the brand’s 30,436-unit total represented an 18-percent drop compared with June 2013 and a 20-percent decrease compared with June 2012.

In fact, on the six occasions during the last nine months that U.S. Volkswagen-brand sales improved, sales were lower — distinctly lower – than they were at the same time two years ago. Statisticians may call it a dead-cat bounce or a return to the norm. You can call it a 3 percent year-over-year decline through the first-half of 2015 and U.S. market share of just 2 percent.

Elsewhere in North America, the story is markedly different. Volkswagen is a hugely forceful brand in Mexico, where VW’s market share through the first five months of 2015 stood at 14 percent. Across the northern border of America, Volkswagen is the fastest-growing volume brand through the halfway point of 2015. Volkswagen sales in Canada are up 21 percent so far this year, and the brand’s market share is precisely twice as strong in Canada as it is in the U.S.

Comparisons with the Mexican market are indirect at best. The product lineups don’t actually line up, for starters, and the industry is, on a per capita basis, comparatively tiny. But there are great similarities between the U.S. and Canadian markets, including the product portfolio in VW showrooms on both sides of the border.

So how does Volkswagen Canada fare so much better than Volkswagen of America? Ignoring the obvious themes of pricing schemes, general acceptance in the populace, and demand for diesel ( topics we’ve touched on in the past), consider the achievements of specific vehicles which now propel VW Canada to new heights and fail to do anything of the sort for VW USA.

The Jetta, Golf, and Tiguan produce 84 percent of Volkswagen’s sales in Canada. In the U.S., that figure is 20 points lower, and the Tiguan is barely Volkswagen’s fourth-best-selling model.

Keep in mind that the U.S. new vehicle market is nine times larger, as is the SUV/crossover market, but the U.S. passenger car market is nearly eleven times larger than Canada’s.

THE JETTA


As it is the United States, the Jetta sedan is Volkswagen’s best seller in Canada. But the Jetta is only America’s 20th-best-selling car — it ranks sixth in Canada, where all of the midsize cars which outsell the Jetta in the U.S. are far less popular. But Canadian Jetta volume is falling. Sales are down 8 percent this year. That’s in keeping with market trends, as seven of Canada’s eight-best-selling cars are in decline.

A total of 15,053 Jettas have been sold in Canada so far this year. Jetta sedan sales in the U.S. are 4.3 times stronger at 64,578 units. (Volkswagen USA has also sold 2,440 Jetta SportWagens as the wagon transitions to the Golf family, a nameplate it already wore in Canada.) Jetta sedan sales in the U.S. are down 2 percent after rising 0.1 percent in 2014, falling 4 percent in 2013 and 3 percent in 2012. In Canada, 2014’s record-setting performance marked the Jetta’s fifth consecutive year sales improvement.

THE GOLF


Golf sales in the U.S. have steadily increased since the Mk7 car was introduced last year. It’s true: demand for compact cars is certainly greater, per capita, in Canada. U.S. compact car volume is only 6.6 times stronger, a much smaller differential than we see in the car market as a whole. But total Golf sales aren’t quite three times as strong in the much larger U.S. market than they are in Canada, where the Golf is now the eighth-best-selling car.

Only 2.5 percent of the new cars sold in the United States are Jettas and Golfs. The same two cars produce 6.7 percent of the Canadian car market, more than any other car save for the Honda Civic, Canada’s best-selling car in each of the last 17 years, and the Toyota Corolla. Volkswagen USA only sells around 3,240 non-GTI Golfs per month. In the much smaller Canadian market, that figure falls just 54 percent.

THE TIGUAN


SUV and crossover sales are booming on both sides of the border, but the Tiguan is a niche player in the United States and an increasingly popular component in the Canadian SUV/crossover sector. Every month, Americans buy approximately 483,000 utility vehicles, of which 0.5 percent are Tiguans. U.S. Tiguan sales have declined in each of the last two years after peaking in 2012 at a paltry 31,731 units. So far this year, Tiguan volume is up, but only to the tune of 4 percent. U.S. Tiguan volume is just 2.4 times stronger than Canadian Tiguan volume.

In Canada, the Tiguan’s share of the SUV/crossover market is nearly four times stronger than it is south of the border. Tiguan sales have increased in Canada in each of the last three years, reaching an all-time high of 10,096 units in 2014. 5,613 have been sold in the first-half of 2015, a 10-percent increase compared with the first six months of 2014. The Tiguan is Canada’s 15th-best-selling utility vehicle through the first-half of 2015; it ranks 51st in the United States.

THE OTHER STUFF


As for VW’s other models, Beetle volume matches the size of the respective markets, with U.S. sales nine times greater than in Canada.

Passat/CC sales are 14 times stronger in the U.S. than in Canada, but the U.S. midsize car market is actually 20 times the size of Canada’s.

Touareg sales are only three times stronger in the U.S.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

Timothy Cain
Timothy Cain

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  • Jimble Jimble on Jul 15, 2015

    VW offers some very aggressive prices in Canada vs. the US. The cheapest Jetta in Canada goes for only $14,990, vs. over 17k in the US. Of course the el-cheapo "Trendline" Jetta is really low on content, but Canadians do seem to appreciate a cheap car more than most Americans do.

    • Derekson Derekson on Jul 15, 2015

      I don't know if VW dealers in Canada discount similarly to those in the US, but a "17k" Jetta can easily be had for $14k in the US at the moment.

  • Whatnext Whatnext on Jul 15, 2015

    There are probably a number of factors at work. High Canadian gas prices make the diesel option attractive (currently diesel is 10 cents cheaper per litre than regular in Vancouver). Why VW doesn't offer the Tiguan with diesel is beyong me. As pointed out VW has a euro chachet in Canada. Especially many Chinese immigrants who would like a BMW will buy a VW as an acceptable downmarket alternative, which they wouldn't do with a KIA. For millenials there's the cool factor: a Golf is cool, a Corolla isn't.

  • YellowDuck Really surprised it's only 1/3. Lack of Android Auto would be a dealbreaker for me. At this point I might even say it needs to be wireless. I can't believe any manufacturer would still be trying to sell built in nav as like a $1500 option. Must sell it to people with flip phones.
  • Mike Beranek Great subject for a multi-part piece. There's a lovely DTS for sale near my work... does anyone have a year that the Northstar becomes buyable? I've heard both 2005 and 2007.
  • Parkave231 Looking forward to this deep dive, Corey. My '02 Deville was right on the cusp of when they "fixed" the head bolt issues, but I really don't know if mine was one of the improved ones. Still, it never gave me problems during ownership, aside from the stupid intake plenum duct issue, which was the one time I'll admit I bit off a little more than I could chew.Smooth engine, decent low-end torque for an OHC engine, and whisper quiet. I got great gas mileage out of it too. But how could GM ever screw up head issues on two V8s in a row?
  • Mike Beranek I wouldn't want to own this car. But I sure would love to borrow it.
  • CFS I can’t believe these comments aren’t 100% in favor of CarPlay/Android Auto. They don’t add much for music and other audio that you don’t get with just a Bluetooth connection, but they make navigation so so much better. Why is it better? Because inputting the destination address is so much easier. And I don’t need to think about updating my car’s maps. Plus, I can switch between Google Maps, Waze, Apple Maps, or whatever else seems best suited for my trip. Hands-free calling features are OK, but not such a big deal for me.
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