By on September 23, 2015

Der neue Volkswagen Passat (USA Version)

The year was 2012, and everything was going according to plan at Volkswagen of America.

After years of languishing as an also-ran in the midsize car category, U.S. sales of the Volkswagen Passat rose to their highest level ever. After generating just 8 percent of VW USA’s volume between 2008 and 2011, the Passat was responsible for more than one quarter of Volkswagen’s volume in 2012.

Indeed, the Passat wasn’t the only product capable of capturing greater attention in 2012. Golf volume rose 18-percent year-over-year. A new version of the new Beetle achieved a quadrupling of U.S. sales. Tiguan volume was up 22 percent to its highest total ever. Touareg sales increased to a seven-year high. And the Jetta, while posting a modest decline after its hot-selling launch year, was still Volkswagen’s highest-volume product, generating nearly four out of every ten VW sales. The Jetta’s 170,000-unit total, down 4-percent year-over-year, was 75-percent higher than the total achieved by the nameplate just four years earlier.

Volkswagen Golf family

Brand-wide volume in 2012 improved to the highest level since 1973, when Type 1 Beetles filled the driveways of America.

On a monthly basis, a streak of year-over-year improvements which began in September 2010 stretched all the way through the first quarter of 2013: 31 consecutive months of growth. The Volkswagen brand’s market share more than doubled from 1.4 percent in pre-recession 2007 to 3.0 percent in 2012. As total U.S. new vehicle sales increased 39 percent between disastrous 2009 and let’s-get-excited 2012, Volkswagen brand sales more than doubled. A 104-percent increase over the course of three years equalled 224,000 extra annual sales.

And then the rate of improvement slowed. 2012’s massive 35-percent year-over-year leap forward appeared very distant in the rearview mirror when first-quarter sales in 2013 grew by just 4 percent. Then the steady increases turned into a handful of modest declines, which quickly became sharp declines, which turned into a long streak of serious declines. By September 2014, monthly Volkswagen sales had fallen on a year-over-year basis in 18 consecutive months.

The trend line reversed for a number of reasons. 2013’s 7-percent drop — as U.S. new vehicle volume grew 8 percent — occurred as virtually every nameplate in the lineup sold less often than the year before: Golf, GTI, Jetta sedan, Jetta SportWagen, Beetle Coupe, Eos, Passat, CC, Tiguan, and Touareg. Meanwhile, although the Routan had always been a low-volume product, its disappearance dug an 8,374-unit-sized hole compared with 2012.

Volkswagen of America was tasked with selling an old Golf during a period in which Europe was thoroughly acquainted with a new Golf. Consumers who were excited about the idea of less costly Jettas and Passats weren’t as thick on the ground as 2012’s demand had led us to believe. As consumers began to veer away from conventional sedans and into crossovers, the People’s Car brand was marketing a two-row luxury SUV and an all-too-compact small crossover that was rather overpriced itself.

01 Volkswagen Jetta

Monthly improvements at the end of 2014 weren’t bright lights in a dark tunnel. Compared with 2013’s disastrous lows in the fourth-quarter, yes, 2014’s Q4 was better. Yet compared with the fourth-quarter of 2012, VW USA sales in the final three months of 2014 were down 16 percent. By the end of the calendar year, Volkswagen posted a 10 percent, 40,734-unit decline compared with 2013. As auto sales roared with a 6-percent year-over-year increase to the highest total new vehicle sales output since 2006, Volkswagen’s market share slid back down to 2.2 percent.

The new Golf certainly provided a big boost in 2015’s first eight months. Non-wagon Golf volume shot up 94-percent through the end of August. But sales of Volkswagen’s best-selling model, the Jetta sedan, continued their ebb. In a midsize category that’s down less than 4 percent in 2015, Passat sales tumbled 16 percent. The brand’s small lineup of aged and overpriced utility vehicles managed to increase volume during the first eight months of 2015, but the 9-percent rate of year-over-year growth to 23,925 total Tiguan/Touareg sales was significantly slower than the 12-percent rate of growth in the overall SUV/crossover sector. Moreover, Volkswagen’s 0.6-percent share of the U.S. SUV/crossover sector is well below the brand’s admittedly lackluster performance among passenger cars.

Following 2012’s elation, all of these disappointments came before we learned that the 2.0-liter diesel engine fitted to more than one-in-five Volkswagen of America products is a scandal-ridden, emissions-test-cheating, NOx-spewing anchor around VW’s neck.

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

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39 Comments on “Volkswagen Of America Was In Very Rough Shape Before The Emissions Scandal...”

  • avatar

    Well it is pretty simple , they did not give the US buyer what they wanted, they went down market in mid size cars, Passet and jetta and the market went upmarket. They still do not have a CUV or SUV that can compete and this is their biggest sin, the golf/ sports wagons got old and were never gonna move in big numbers against they competition and when the new Golf and golf wagons came out they had pent up demand and they sold well and then the shit hit the fan this week. VW can afford to ride out the storm and they can afford to continue not to get North America correct, the real question is will that want to? They have a so so dealer network, they are pricer than the competition and the one main selling point ( TDI’s) has been harmed big time.

  • avatar

    Just came in: Kaiser Winterkorn did abdicate.

    There comes a time that we will (standup comedians first) look back upon Volkswagen’s turbo diesels as the first intelligent car. You know, like learning all those French words right before taking a test, then forget about them. Have a minty-minty breath on a date with a sexy lady, afterwards belching the obNOXious odors you could barely keep inside…

  • avatar

    The new Tiguan and the rumored 3 row crossover will be VW’s salvation.

    As you said, compact and midsize sedan sales are down across the board, and with the diesel fiasco they pretty much lost their only competitive edge/draw.

    However, the new Tiguan and their unnamed 3 row provide legitimate quasi luxury alternatives to mainstream crossovers at a discount off of full blown luxury offerings. Scandal and all I am pretty excited though I want to see what Mazda does with the next CX-7. They need a VW version of the Q3 as well. The HR-V segment is exploding. It’s all about the crossovers now, and for some reason they are still dragging their feet.

    • 0 avatar

      “The new Tiguan and the rumored 3 row crossover will be VW’s salvation.”

      I think the ship has sailed; the Tiguan was a poor value proposition next to the Escape, Equinox, CR/V and RAV, and the perverse resistance to selling a three-row crossover pretty much drove their potential buyers elsewhere.

      • 0 avatar

        Right. They are way too late to the game now. VW can only hope for incremental improvement. They are never going to be able to compete with the big dogs in the US for CUV volume.

        • 0 avatar

          Folks said the same about the Jetta and Passat, and they turned all that around.

          I am going to be in the market for something in this segment in 2-3 years, and personally I wouldn’t even consider something like a CR-V or even the CX-5. I want something with more oomph and refinement, but I don’t want to spend 40-50K on something like a Q5 or RDX. Current Tiguan is just too small but if they gave it the 8AT+2.0T and more room it would be about perfect. Which is exactly what they did.

          I don’t think it’s going to take any volume away but like the CX-7 it will be a nice bridge between the proletariat commodities and the luxury CUVs.

          • 0 avatar
            Paco Cornholio

            Right you are.

            Remember how big a leap the ’99 Passat was over previous VW’s? It was smooth, fast, had a great interior and nice little features like true rain-sensing wipers and a slick trip computer. It and the Jetta transformed VW’s reputation in a few years, and they can do it again.

            The VWs of the past few years have been slowly destroying the brand. The Jetta TDI wagon was great on paper, even looked OK, but each time I walked into a dealer the Etch-a-Sketch center stack and cheap materials sent me home without the keys.

            Dealers were the other problem. When I first started looking at Jetta wagons they told me they were too popular to allow test drives – buying decisions had to be made on sight only, and right now, please don’t waste our time. Telling them BMW let me test drive a Z8 before I bought one didn’t help.

          • 0 avatar

            And the MkIV cars were a huge leap over the MkIII cars. That didn’t help them in the long run though. VW always misjudges the American market or is too late to the party. They needed the 2017 Tiguan in 2012.

            Dealers treating Golf Rs/GTIs like they are Ferraris doesn’t help. Ford, GM, FCA, etc will let you test drive a 400+ HP pony car with a valid drivers license and VW gives people a hassle about driving the Golf.

        • 0 avatar

          BMW, MB and Audi all know that the trucks sell well here. They make the trucks here. No one really buys trucks there…even with diesel, you can’t afford to feed them. Mama drives a small manual wagon, not something that can swallow a 4 x 8. In two weeks of one side to the other of Germany, I saw ONE Q7 and two X5. Anyone who has been to Europe knows the mirrors fold in for a reason. A truck and you aren’t a construction worker ? ? You have to be kidding.

          Our German relatives were very pleased they’d obtained a space for us in Berlin when we were there. It was a tight fit for a Golf, but our rental E class tested my NYC parallel parking skills. Thosebackup sensors aren’t a toy-they are quite helpful when you have six inches per side of the car.

          VW can’t see past the German border, so the concept of a three row does not compute. This myopia makes the German-German cars enthusiasts love but also means the majority of the cars are slightly mis-aimed.

          VW also doesn’t get that a majority of US cars get to the boneyard with original shocks, and that preventative work on a car basically does not exist in OUR mass market. GM knows this, and Toyota, Nissan and Honda have learned it.

    • 0 avatar

      “The new Tiguan and the rumored 3 row crossover will be VW’s salvation.”

      VW basically ignored America for YEARS!

      The cars were Decontented and the quality suffered as VW never CARED to improve it since the vehicles STILL have issues today!

      Buy the VW and hold it for 3 years then sell it to a sucker. Why? Because VWs are known to be expensive to repair because the Quality Sucks regardless how of its performance!

      Maybe it’s time for VW to vacate America.

      If it intends to stay, it’ll have a hard time to improve its image. The first things to do are Improve the quality of its vehicles and lower the prices!

      VW is basically a niche automaker in America.
      Nothing will change that!

    • 0 avatar

      “They need a VW version of the Q3 as well.”

      They have one, it’s called the Tiguan. The Q3 is about half a generation newer (it’s basically the last new design made on the old PQ46 platform, and uses some MQB elements) but they’re similarly sized and built off of the same basic platform.

  • avatar

    To keep the dealership alive, VW needs to move some iron. Since the cars aren’t doing it on their own (no CUV), they will need some truly amazing financing, because in America, that always juices sales/leasing. As interest rates are already low, I doubt that zero financing will do it.
    I see some truly amazing leases for Golf/Jetta/Passat in the near future.

  • avatar

    To be contrarian, VW HQ is better off just letting VW USA plod along and putting its muscle into Audi USA.

    The USA market is unique in the world—straight, wide potholed roads, gas price not a concern, Americans tend to have bigger families, haul more stuff, etc. The qualities that American drivers want are not the same as European drivers.

    German cars as-is-in Germany will never go mainstream in America—though i can say i’ve seen on the road a brown Jetta TDI wagon—I’would’ve taken a photo but I was in motion.

    • 0 avatar

      Fron a corp point this may not be the worst idea, let them sell their 200,000 cars, small CUV and just move on, I doubt they will do it , to much of a black eye not being able to feel in the USa compare to Toyota …

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      mmreeses, VW dealers probably couldn’t survive on Golf/GTI sales alone. VW needs a few plausibly mainstream models like the NA Jetta and Passat plus a competitive crossover or two.

      Volkswagen customers also need some certainty regarding TDI. I see software changes to get the new unsold 2015 and 2016 urea injection equipped models compliant with EPA regulations ASAP. There will also be some performance-destroying BS software upgrade for older TDI cars that most owners will choose not to accept. I suspect that Volkswagen will need to offer some buyback program for TDI owners in California and other CARB states for cars that can’t meet CARB standards.

  • avatar
    Secret Hi5

    When will VAG’s first cringe-worthy mea culpa TV ad debut?

  • avatar

    I know! Make the Passat and Jetta even bigger and softer!

    Yeah, that’s the ticket!

  • avatar

    They are slowly bringing the Jetta upmarket again, but not fast enough. SE and above should have the full bitmapped trip computers. It sounds silly, but that was my criteria- I would not buy a VW with the older non bitmapped computer. You can add it to most jettas by getting the lighting or driver assistance packages, but that wipes out most of the value pricing to do so. That also cut out the Passat Limited edition, to which it is impossible to add the better computer. I would be staring at that all day while driving, and the cheaper one would remind me I made a compromise. BTW, my local dealers have a ton of Passat tsi limited additions that I bet you could get for a song right now. That’s one place where Mazda is doing better- it’s much smarter at going upmarket in touch and vision points. Trunk is nicer in the Jetta, no question, but how much time do you spend back there?

    • 0 avatar

      Bizarrely the good trip computer is packaged with the Xenon headlight upgrade. I don’t get that at all.

      • 0 avatar

        VW always packaged the decent radio with a sunroof, add $2500….
        Ripoff options aren’t just a BMW speciality.

        I had a Passat TSI loaner, and loved the engine and suspension.. The car, for the 22k price point was very nice, hard plastics aside. Compared to my German TDi, it’s not the same, and the RCD 510 radio and 9w7 bluetooth were head and shoulders above the crap base radio, but the voice commands were all there-that part must be cheap. Electronics are so cheap now, only BMW can charge for streaming bluetooth.

        I’d rather the Passat than a Camry, but the mass market isn’t with me on this one.

  • avatar

    I’ll bet the discussions at the board meeting centers around pulling out of the US market and the hell with saving face. With a worldwide market of 9 million annual sales who needs this grief. Pull the the plug.

    • 0 avatar

      What? You think they want to pull out of the US market, and remind US car buyers of the other manufacturers like Peugeot, Citroen, Alfa Romeo, Fiat that found themselves unable to compete here…in a market in which VW was once a prime mover? Well, that was before most TTAC readers were born, so maybe it is conceivable. But I don’t think it will happen.

  • avatar

    All this won’t have any effect on Volkswagen hitting its 800,000 US sales target by 2018 will it?

  • avatar

    Hmmm, I wonder if Marchionne will cozy up to the new VW CEO shortly (“There are different kinds of hugs – polite hugs, bear hugs, I want to merge with you hugs”)?


  • avatar

    When’s the Jetta going to move to MQB and I wonder if the GLI will get the GTI’s powertrain?

    For a company that wants more U.S. sales, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of effort besides talk.

    I also wonder how many more sales VW could make if there CR reliability data hovered around average. Taken as a group, the range is less than it has been in the past, but when a potential shopper looks at the magazine/web site and sees V.W. near the bottom that’s got to have an effect especially in this price range.

    I doubt a new Tiguan will turn things around but it can slow the bleeding.

  • avatar
    Lynn E.

    “To keep the dealership alive, VW needs to move some iron.”

    Who the hell wants to keep a VW dealer alive?

  • avatar
    April S

    I’ve been looking hard at the Jetta. I really like the square body (much more refined than the melted jellybean look of most everything out there). Anyway, I may pull the trigger now that the more powerful 1.4 Turbo gas engine is standard.

    P.S. I’m sure the salesperson I talked to a month back will be happy to see me. :)

  • avatar

    I was just thinking, I dunno where all those 2012+ Touaregs are, as I so rarely see them in the wild. It’s been probably two months since I have seen a Touareg at all.

  • avatar

    The whole VW diesel schlomozzle leaves me with truly ambivalent feelings. I closed on a 2016 Touareg TDI on Saturday morning about 12 hours after the initial reports emerged. This was after my 2015 Touareg TDI with 850 miles on it was totaled when rear ended while stopped in a highway jam by a mouth breather who was texting instead of driving. The turbo 3.0 liter V-6 TDI has, so far, not been implicated and it has the AdBlue SCR system. Diesel technology still makes a lot of sense when it comes to climate change, fuel density, safety (lower flash point), range and durability. That said, all VW diesels and diesels in general will now be tarred with the same brush and, as someone over on the Club TDI forum pointed out, VW has done more damage to diesels in a few days than GM did with its crappy Oldsmobile diesels in the late ’70’s. I plan to keep the Touareg for 10 years, so I’m not too concerned about resale value but there’s no new car skip in my step.

    One thing’s for sure, if you’re in the market for a gasser VW (I’ll take a Golf R with a stick, please) VW of America will likely be shoveling money at the dealers during the next 12-24 months just to keep them on board.

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