By on August 17, 2017

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan - Image: VolkswagenThe Nissan Juke and Mini Countryman arrived in the United States in 2010. The Subaru Crosstrek appeared two years later.

Buick’s Encore appeared at U.S. dealers in 2013; its Chevrolet Trax partner the following year. 2015 saw the arrival of the Fiat 500X, Jeep Renegade, Honda HR-V, and Mazda CX-3. The (FWD-only) Toyota C-HR landed in April 2017. The Hyundai Kona was unveiled in June 2017 and will show up in U.S. Hyundai stores this coming winter.

And on August 23, 2017, Volkswagen will unveil the T-Roc, which isn’t likely to go on sale in the United States until 2019. That’s nine years late.

Will the T-Roc’s tardiness cause the subcompact Volkswagen crossover to suffer the marketplace consequences just as its overdue siblings always have?

Remember the (now discontinued) upmarket Volkswagen Touareg’s 2003 appearance? The Mercedes-Benz ML was six years old by that point. The BMW X5 went into production in 1999.

The first Volkswagen Tiguan sale in America occurred in 2008, by which point the Toyota RAV4 was enjoying its 13th model year.

The Volkswagen Atlas arrived in America three months ago, 15 years after the Honda Pilot, which was hardly the family SUV progenitor.

Even if the old Volkswagen Tiguan hangs around, the T-Roc will only increase Volkswagen of America’s SUV/crossover lineup to four vehicles. Toyota markets the 4Runner, C-HR, Highlander, Land Cruiser, RAV4, and Sequoia. Nissan’s current lineup includes the Armada, Juke, Murano, Pathfinder, Rogue, and Rogue Sport. Volkswagen compatriot Mercedes-Benz sells the G, GLA, GLC, GLE, and GLS, plus an additional bodystyle for both the GLC and GLE.

Of greater consequence than the quantity of nameplates, however, is the quantity of sales. Coming late to the party has never been Volkswagen’s only problem — the Touareg was a luxury SUV with a Volkswagen badge, the first Tiguan was overpriced and undersized — but it was always a significant factor. Volkswagen of America sold 26,476 utility vehicles in the first seven months of 2017. Toyota sells 32,000 RAV4s every month.

By the time the Tiguan hit the shelves, there were legions of loyal RAV4 and CR-V customers, for example. The Atlas’ dawdling approach left a decade (or much more) for three-row family SUVs to establish their market share in America.

Without knowing the 2019 Volkswagen T-Roc’s modus operandi, we can’t pretend to know how Volkswagen’s next crossover will perform in the U.S. marketplace. Perhaps it will be quicker, more spacious, better looking, and more attractively priced than all of its established rivals. But even if it is, the T-Roc enters the equation at a severe disadvantage?

So will Volkswagen always be punished by its inability to quickly and decisively respond to the auto industry’s SUV trends?

[Image: Volkswagen]

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

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41 Comments on “QOTD: Will Volkswagen Be Forever Punished for Its SUV Tardiness?...”


  • avatar
    ash78

    VW will always be punished for changing their US strategy from being the “Budget Mercedes” to the “Upscale Toyota” (ie, their plan for world domination which started before Piech’s departure and Dieselgate further complicated things).

    IMHO, they would have been better off keeping on their old course, focusing on profit margins and improving quality/reliability, not decontenting their cars and splitting away from their European offerings. Their European quirks are what made the brand valuable, so cars like the Atlas and (US) Passat are not helping that.

    I always say “you can’t out-Toyota Toyota.” They’re just too efficient and their nameplate is Teflon. Unintended Acceleration set Audi back 20 years (and much of it was fake). The same issue — on a much larger scale — is barely remembered by Toyota fans.

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      The thing is, the “Budget Mercedes” strategy didn’t actually work. The cars weren’t profitable, and didn’t sell particularly well. For instance, the current Fat-Ass Land Yacht Passat sold better than the somewhat-famous A4-derived B5 Passat ever did.

      Shifting to Americanized products actually made more money, even if it did make most of their models much less attractive to enthusiasts.

      • 0 avatar
        ash78

        I don’t disagree with that, the numbers prove it out. However, you have to account for much more efficient platform sharing (namely the MQB architecture) and other aspects that didn’t exist 10-15 years ago. So it’s really hard to say whether it was just the Americanization or better manufacturing and cost controls.

        I can speak to the Americanization in that there’s a lot less “surprise and delight” than there used to be, and from what I’ve read there are fewer repeat buyers, which is not a great sign. Too hard to attribute that to one thing, though. One bad dealership experience can sour a person pretty quickly.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          Right. It seems to me like, these days, Volkswagen is going after a very generalized, fickle kind of customer these days, who is just as likely to switch to a Hyundai or a Chevrolet the next time…instead of another Volkswagen or Volkswagen Group product.

          There’s nothing special about the Atlas or the Passat. They’re very clinically-designed, value-focused offerings, and I think they both even sacrifice the cleaner aesthetic sensibilities of Volkswagen’s global design language; you could just about slap a different brand’s badge on the front and no one would know the difference. The only thing Volkswagen had going for it in mainstream segments was the TDI family, and that’s gone now—and ironically, competitors GM and Mazda are chomping at the bit to take the void left by its absence.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            “you could just about slap a different brand’s badge on the front and no one would know the difference.”

            Stylistically the Atlas (IMHO) looks like a previous generation Toyota Highlander.

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            Agreed. I also get tones of the Grand Cherokee and Pilot. The Atlas is just very generic looking.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            It’s so generic that it is a pity it was released too late to be the basis of the Griswold Family vehicle in the 2015 version of “Vacation”.

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            Right. I would have liked to see them use something archetypal of the modern family “truckster”, rather than that Serbian monstrosity they used. Other than the fact that it tried to be everything for everybody, it wasn’t much of a satire.

            Or if they had wanted to be creative, they could have spoofed one of those four-door coupe SUVs. The QMR T6 Semi-Activity Vessel. With qDrive.

    • 0 avatar
      turbosasquatch

      I think the biggest problem wasn’t that they challenged Toyota but that they changed strategies period. Value German car is a great strategy, it’s probably what has made them so strong in Europe. But switching strategies alienates current customers and probably played a part in delaying their product offerings.

      If they could slowly but surely build up their customer base with the European models that get so praised (cars and SUVs) and offer a strong warranty to emphasize the merits of German Engineering, they’d probably be doing well in few years.

      The Japanese win over consumers because of reliability not price. VW has to get on that and their dealerships who think that they are selling Bentleys. Never seen more arrogant salesmen.

  • avatar
    mcbacon

    The short answer, I don’t think they’ll keep being punished.

    I think that VW shot itself in the foot with the Mk4s and their numerous build quality and electrical issues (none of which, thankfully, I experienced). Now that Millennials are getting older and have become the prime car-buying audience, they may have a fighting chance simply because Millennials weren’t old enough to drive the Mk4 when new and they’re fading fast from the used marketplace.

    The Mk5 and beyond were vastly improved, save for the HPFP on the CR TDIs.

    I think that VW needs to do what Hyundai did to get a loyal fanbase, offer more features and ever-improving build quality with a great warranty, which they’re now offering on the Atlas and new Tiguan.

    I’ve always loved the way VWs drive and how solid they tend to feel, but most Millennials, imho, care more about neat gadgets than how a car feels and drives.

  • avatar
    thegamper

    I am probably making broad generalizations that I really have not support for, but I think VW’s base in the US were usually people who wanted something different, something European. I sort of take issue with Ash’s characterization of an upscale Toyota. I think VW of late hasn’t really been upscale anything. They are making their core models in the US (I Suppose Atlas, Passat) more in line with what American’s want, what American automakers have offered.

    Maybe its just that VW owners, like auto enthusiasts, just never wanted a crossover. They wanted small, nimble, sporty and in the case of VW loyalists, something different/European. Now they are being offered “Me Too” crossovers with a very American look and feel. I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t catch on among VW loyalists, especially with just a sea of options to choose from.

    Most crossover shoppers who have been in the game for years are probably happy with their brand, what does VW really offer besides questionable reliability and dieselgate fame.

    • 0 avatar
      ash78

      FWIW, the “upscale Toyota” meme is sort of generic, not literal. It came about when VW started making the US Passat for a $20k entry point, removing a lot of their more premium content in favor of a bigger, simpler car.

      OTOH, if you go back a few more years (my 2001.5 Passat, for example), the cars were Audi-based, rock solid in build quality, albeit a PITA to maintain at times. But you could see the “Mercedes emulation” in just about everything.

      Yes, I agree, it’s hard to port over any sense of enthusiasm to a crossover, but at the same time I’m also keeping my eye on the new Tiguan. Having a third row and a slightly larger vehicle (than the outgoing model) will appeal to a lot of people. The Golf Sportwagen is nice enough, but IMO tiny…I might as well just buy a GTI and slap a roof box on it.

  • avatar
    incautious

    VW biggest problems are a real or perceived lack of quality/reliability and a dealership that thinks that they can charge astronomical amounts for routine maintenance. For instance DCT transmission fluid change on a CC, every 40,000 miles up to $600. Rear tires that wear out every 20,000 because of the minimal amount of adjust ability needed to correct this problem. The list can go on and on. Look at the maintenance scheduled on a Toyota. Change oil every 10,000 miles and other wise inspect inspect inspect. That’s it. No expensive maintenance costs.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      To be fair, the CC and anything with the DCT—like the Golf GTI, Golf R, Jetta GLI, Golf Alltrack, Golf SportWagen S AWD, Passat V6 / GT and the entire former 4-cylinder TDI family—is a niche vehicle that buyers expect to be a little more fickle. They don’t put the DSG on the volume stuff. They just use a classic 6-speed automatic transaxle or, for the new Tiguan and Atlas, an 8-speed automatic transaxle. And those cars have fairly normal maintenance schedules, too.

      I haven’t heard anything about rear tires wearing out early / excessively, either; mine certainly didn’t on my Golf SportWagen TDI, which did have the DSG, although it also had a torsion beam rear suspension as opposed to IRS.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Could part of the problem be lack of availability?

    I checked out my VW dealer this last Sunday and saw two Atlases and maybe three or four new Tiguans.

    • 0 avatar
      stingray65

      To some extent I think VW gives little priority to the US market, their bread and butter is Europe so anything hot and new gets first crack there. US gets the leftovers.

  • avatar
    legacygt

    Not at all the point of the article but I’m happy to see you mention the Juke and Countryman side-by-side. Those cars came out around the same time and match eachother’s specifications nearly perfectly. Yet, you rarely hear them mentioned in the same breath. They are clearly positioned differently in the marketplace but I always found them incredibly similar and I’m happy to see them mentioned here.

  • avatar
    matt3319

    Since 2001 Ive owned a 2001 jetta wolfsburg manual(wife), a 2002 GTI manual, a 2003 Beetle(wife and it was junk and yellow), a 2012 CC manual in Urano grey, a 2016 Passat R-Line, a 2016 GTI se manual and finally a 2017 R-Line in Urano Grey.

    All those have been great cars. They have been reliable but I can certainly see the cheapness has grown over the years. The Passat is huge.

    I think VW “Americanizing its cars just for us is wrong. VW have always been quirky and European. Getting away from that is a mistake. but the average american can care less about quirky european cars. They want bland toyotas and VW thinks it can make bland cars for us to buy. Not many will.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      As someone who shopped VW against its’ competition last fall, and bought one (Jetta 1.4 TSI), can I say that VW is a lot less “quirky” than it used to be? Absolutely. But even the “Americanized” VWs are VASTLY more appealing to enthusiasts, and far less bland, than just about any other mainstream brand. The only exception, really, is Mazda (and perhaps Kia, which is an underrated enthusiast brand).

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        I’m reluctant to buy a Hyundai / Kia given their recent quality control problems—and the fact that the former’s cars feel like disposable modes of conveyance—but I drove a Forte5 SX and thoroughly impressed. It felt like 9/10ths of a GTI. And it looks handsome, too.

  • avatar
    tommytipover

    No, VW will be forever punished for building their cars from parts sourced from the lowest bidder, then making supplies of those replacement parts scarce and their prices too high, AND for willfully polluting our air and then lying about it.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Very late to the party VW. All the best liquor has been drunk – ;-)

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    “Will Volkswagen Be Forever Punished for Its SUV Tardiness?”

    No, they’ll probably get punished because the name T-Roc is DUMB.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Yes, they are about 10 years too late to the party. On top of that, there’s little to no reason to buy their crossover offerings over the competition. The Atlas is not bad but nothing special… and the Tiguan offers a pretty miserable driving experience. I can’t think of why anyone would get one over a Rogue other than the badge.

    VW in general is in a tough spot. There’s nothing in their lineup worth buying over the competition besides the Golf line and the upcoming Arteon. But those kinds of cars don’t do enough volume to sustain the brand in the US.

  • avatar
    darex

    Why does VAG always delay new model/MY introductions by 1-2 years for the NAM? BMW and MB don’t. The latter two release their new stuff in NA at the same time as in Europe. VW is neither too small, nor too poor to use either as an excuse. It just pisses off potential customers. I mean, who do they think they are anyway? Nobody waits with bated breath for their offerings (especially nowadays). As long as they continue to treat our market like a second-class citizen, I’m sure the Market will regard them similarly.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Meh. I like VW for their cars. A CR-V competitor with a VW badge doesn’t interest me at all unless they can make it drive like a CX-5 and give it an interior that punches above the price point. Reviews of the Atlas aren’t encouraging.

    VW is in the press for all the wrong reasons. Dieselgate. Slipping CR reliability ratings. A market-irrelevant hot hatch and station wagon acting as the brand halos. Even if the Tiguan becomes a better vehicle and a better match for our market than the CR-V, it’s not going to sell like it.

    I’d rather they just stick to making GTIs and baby Benzes like the brilliant MkV Jetta/Golf line but that’s probably not enough to keep the lights on here.

  • avatar
    Fred

    How can I be mad at a company that never gave up on the wagon or manual?

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    If, as the writer claims, the Tiguan was “undersized,” what would be the point of offering an even smaller CUV? How would that fix the runty Tiguan’s size problem?

    I’m about to pack our Tiguan for en eclipse chase. I’l solve the size problem the old fashioned way, with a roof rack and cargo box.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      For the price of the outgoing Tiguan, it had a premium drivetrain, but the cabin was, yes, too small to really compete in the meat of the compact market. The new one solves that, and since they’ve brought us solely the LWB variant, it can actually serve as both Volkswagen’s compact offering and their mid-sized, five-passenger vehicle for length. The old one also didn’t get great fuel economy, which has been addressed—sort of—with a new 8-speed also shared with the Atlas. Too, I believe VW will continue to sell the older model, also with the new 8-speed. The new Tiguan isn’t any cheaper, in reality; it just gives you more for the money, now.

      The T-Roc, presumably, will be less expensive and will sell better for it. If it doesn’t, at least Volkswagen will have a better Tiguan and won’t be forsaking a crucial market by offering a niche vehicle there.

  • avatar
    cdotson

    Will VW always be punished for being unable to deliver the products the market wants in a timely fashion?

    As long as they are unable, they will be punished. So yes, yes it will.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    VW is not really able to compete in the US market because of Audi. Giving the Euro-vibe is expensive, which is why all the Germans only sell their upscale models in the US. A European base model Golf or BMW 316i is generally well engineered, but slow, poorly equipped, and offers a very spartan interior that would just not be attractive in the US market. But load them up with the hotter engine and some luxury bits that cost little extra to provide, and then sell it at a “premium” price has worked great for BMW, M-B, and Audi. VW hasn’t been able to follow this strategy in part because of their “people’s car” brand image, but also because going upscale runs them into Audi territory. On the other hand, VW doesn’t have the cost structure to go cheap and compete with mass-market brands, because Americans don’t like VW’s European volume models such as the Golf and Polo, and US only models don’t provide very good economies of scale. Thus serving the US market just isn’t a very high priority, better to keep the Europeans and Chinese happy and let Americans buy profitable Audis.

  • avatar
    brettc

    I think if anything, VW will be punished for its SUVs without diesel engines. The TSI is a good engine, but it’s not much engine to push the Atlas around. The next generation Tiguan was supposed to get a TDI, but obviously that’s not happening so GM and Mazda are picking up the slack.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Of all the things Volkswagen could be punished for, a late rollout of a SUV is pretty far down the list.

  • avatar
    newenthusiast

    I’m not sure ‘punish’ is the right word. This is the natural course of a business that is out of step with the market’s needs.

    Toyota, Honda, and to a lesser degree Nissan, and Mazda (via its former relationship with Ford) took a long term view of building their brands in the US, and have long offered vehicles that make sense in North America, sometimes even making vehicles JUST for North America. Their American divisions built manufacturing plants here, and design cars that make sense here based on feedback from their customers and dealers.

    From the outside looking in, it appears that VW is far more ‘top down’ in its structure, with all decisions made in Germany, after a slow up the chain, down the chain process for any feedback….which is often rejected. Their inability to ever offer any type of truck at all in the US, when they currently have such a vehicle in their global stable is insane. It’s only the number one volume (and profit) segment in the US market. Why would you ignore it VW? Toyota slowly made their way in, and now the Tacoma is the sales leader in its segment.

    The only ones punishing VW’s American arm is VAG itself.

    • 0 avatar
      Ermel

      Why you aren’t getting the Amarok? Four reasons: too small (it’s just a midsize), too expensive (especially currently with the V6 as standard), no petrol engines available (you guys hate Diesels even more passionately then we’ve started to since the exhaust scandal), and Chicken Tax. Bad America! No Volkswagen commercial vehicles for you! ;-)

      • 0 avatar
        newenthusiast

        Well, personally, I have no need or desire for any truck of any kind, so I don’t care if VW offers one. But given that they wanted to sell 800,000 vehicles here by 2018, it seems counter-intuitive to not attempt to sell a vehicle in the single largest selling vehicle category in the US. Its part of my answer to the question: consumers aren’t punishing them, they are doing a good job by themselves.

        And VAG has precedents for having gasoline variants in vehicles offered with diesel elsewhere in the world, so I don’t think that’s an issue.

  • avatar
    Ermel

    On its home turf, Volkswagen has been notorious for being late to the game, then winning it anyway. The Golf was not the first transversally-engined small hatchback, the Passat was not the first large (for here) fastback (back then), the T4 Transporter/Caravelle was the last of the vans to go to the now-standard short-nosed layout; both the old pick-up Caddy and the new highroof microvan one, as well as the Sharan, Touran, Touareg, and Tiguan were all late to their respective segments.

    Hasn’t hurt them a bit here. Except for the Touareg and maybe Sharan, they all are or were segment leaders in Germany, some even in the whole of Europe.

    They’re just not made for the US; they seem to be just too expensive to compete there. Here, no-one is surprised when a VW costs a few grand more than its imported or GM/Ford-branded competition; hasn’t hurt them a bit, either. After all, for the more frugal customer, there’s always Skoda and Seat.

    Surely it makes sense to re-use the last generation’s components (suspension and such), make somewhat bigger bodies around that, build ’em cheaply over there and sell them to Americans. That’s actually pretty much the Skoda recipe gone stateside, which is why I don’t think you’ll be getting those: you already have something like it, only that it’s called Volkswagen there.

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