By on August 23, 2017

2014 Volkswagen T-Roc Concept - Image: Volkswagen“I don’t know why we are late.”
– Frank Welsch, head of development for Volkswagen, ahead of T-Roc launch

It’s been less than one week since TTAC’s B&B had its collective say on the subject of Volkswagen’s SUV delays. But in an interview with Autocar, Volkswagen’s head of development, Frank Welsch, certainly isn’t denying the problem.

“I don’t know why we are late,” Welsch says, speaking not only of utility vehicles such as the T-Roc, but Euro-MPVs as well. “With the Touran we were late, the Sharan we were late. I cannot explain why, here we are.”

“I’m happy to have this car now.”

As if stepping out of a rehab program for automakers addicted to ignoring obvious trends, Volkswagen has finally completed the first step: recognizing the problem. The T-Roc will be unveiled this afternoon, August 23, 2017, years after the Nissan Juke, Mini Countryman, Subaru Crosstrek, Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, Jeep Renegade, Honda HR-V, and Mazda CX-3 took control of the subcompact crossover segment.

Volkswagen has a history of arriving very late to SUV festivities. One segment above the T-Roc, the first-generation Volkswagen Tiguan arrived in the U.S. in 2008, a dozen years after the Toyota RAV4, 11 years after the Honda CR-V, eight years after the slow-to-arrive Ford Escape, and even slightly behind the Nissan Rogue.

Those four vehicles dominate America’s compact crossover category in which the Volkswagen Tiguan struggles to earn market share, and it’s no wonder. 3.7 million RAV4s, CR-Vs, Escapes, and Rogues were sold in America before the Volkswagen Tiguan arrived, not to mention a huge number of other small utility vehicles.

The Volkswagen Touareg was no early adopter, either, not landing until 2003 and doing so with a premium price tag/mainstream badge combination that dramatically reduced demand. The Touareg has been discontinued in the U.S. market, effectively replaced by the Volkswagen Atlas. Life won’t be easy for the much more affordable, three-row Atlas, which landed in America in May 2017, by which point Toyota had already sold 2 million Highlanders in the U.S., not to mention millions of Ford Explorers, Honda Pilots, Nissan Pathfinders, and Chevrolet Traverses, among numerous others.

Now it’s the Volkswagen T-Roc’s turn to face Volkswagen’s forced uphill battle. Subcompact crossovers generated more than 1.1 million U.S. sales in 2014, 2015, and 2016; another 318,000 in the first seven months of 2017. If any of those buyers became brand loyalists, they won’t be returning to the Volkswagen dealer in order to purchase or lease a VW-badged vehicle.

Volkswagen wasn’t present for the birth and early years of the category. Early days are formative days. But as Old Man Luedecke says, These early days, well, they don’t last.

[Image: Volkswagen]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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20 Comments on “When It Comes to Tardy SUV Launches, at Least Volkswagen Knows It Has a Problem...”

  • avatar

    I’d prefer something more like “We had to settle lawsuits from the English rock band T-Rex, as well as the Fox network and Johnson & Johnson for the use of ‘Roc’ in the name.”

    Or they could have just made something up, like Scion and Nissan fighting them for the ugliest design cues of all time.

    • 0 avatar

      I think a bigger problem is that all of this nonsense points to a corporate culture of chaos within the company. To actually say that they don’t know why something is happening in their company is crazy! I think VW is a sick company, and has been for quite some time. Why that is? I’m not sure, but the evidence is all there.

      • 0 avatar

        As a former shareholder, I couldn’t agree more. As a customer, I’m not surprised at all.

        The least they could do is have some generic corporate talking points about underestimating the resurgence in demand for SUVs after the Great Recession or something.

        Far more egregious and inexplicable is how they missed the entire subcompact boom about 10 years ago (by never federalizing the Polo and ceding the entire market to Fit, Yaris, Mazda2, etc). That trend came and went, but at the time they were conspicuously absent.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve suspected some sort of unspoken corporate revulsion to crossovers, or really to anything but cars. They couldn’t be bothered to field an option of their own during the minivan era and had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the crossover era. It’s like they feel above selling something as gauche as a product the market thinks that they want rather than what they think the market should want.

  • avatar

    It will sell OK if they advertise sale prices $5000-6000 off each one. If the dealers don’t do that it will sell slow. That’s the way of the current VW dealer these days.

  • avatar

    Don’t feel sorry for VW. World’s largest car maker – and making a 7.1 billion euro profit in 2016. It’s tough for them in the SUV mad USA but they can’t make enough of the Atlas to meet demand at the moment. And they have a pretty convincing electric mobility plan – it took them a long time as they insist on doing in right and in a profitable way by building a platform (MEB) that can host a wide variety of vehicles. Not some funky “one-off” to lose money on like the BMW i-3.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    I can’t believe a moronic model name like T-Roc got past the approval stage.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree, if that’s what it’s actually called it’s the worst name in a long time. But it is from the same people who think “Buzz” and “Crozz” are clever.

    • 0 avatar

      Why is this any more “moronic” than CR-V, MR2, C-HR, WRX STI, etc? The Kia Soul uses those cute hamsters in its ads; buy one of those, if that’s smokin’ hot.

  • avatar

    Where’s my Scirocco?

  • avatar

    Of course, VW was later to the entire business of selling automobiles than were many other automakers – who long ago went out of business – and it is one of the world’s largest businesses today. True, it will have to play catch-up in the USA for awhile; the Ford Explorer passed the Chevy Blazer years ago, so that seems not an impossible task.
    Always so many cranks and grousers on these sites – running down the brands they don’t personally favor. Few if any automakers, and corporations in general, are without sin – with covered-up safety defects, exaggerated mileage claims, etc.

  • avatar

    I forgot who this article was written by and thought “wow Americans know who Old Man Luedecke is?” then I realized of course it’s written by someone from Down East.

    • 0 avatar

      @scott25…Off topic. My wife and I used to frequent all inclusive resorts..As a rule we generally socialized with Americans, and Brits (we share a somewhat of a common language)..A fellow Canuck checked his phone. “OMG ..Stompin Tom passed away ! ” said the dude…”The Hockey Song” Sudbury Saturday Night” “Bud the Spud”

      The Americans, and the Brits looked at us with a blank stare .”Who died?”

      So its been said “we don’t have a culture “…Eh !

  • avatar

    Volkswagen is more or less a china play and Volkswagen is about to sell more cars in China than even Europe.

  • avatar

    Ugh. The dissonance from the ‘VW’ roundel in the large honeycomb grill makes my head hurt.

  • avatar

    I wish I knew why? but I like the way it looks. Horrible name.

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