By on November 12, 2018

Herbert Diess Jetta 2017

Through the end of October, Volkswagen of America’s efforts to gain a 5 percent share of the country’s new vehicle market (by 2020) continued apace, with sales up 5 percent over the same period a year earlier. This sales bump has two crossovers to thank, not cars.

No, definitely not cars.

Still, VW CEO Herbert Diess, when questioned about the brand’s slowly deflating car lineup, doesn’t believe the future involves a light truck-only landscape. To him, the limitations of existing battery technology means future buyers won’t decrease their horizons just for the sake of cargo space. The sedan, Diess claims, is probably not in danger.

Year to date, VW passenger car sales fell a significant 31 percent, with the brand’s overall volume helped by a 170 percent increase in crossover purchases. The three-row Atlas, which went on sale in May of 2017, climbed 29 percent, year over year, in October, while the enlarged Tiguan posted an 84 percent YoY gain. A departing Tiguan Limited added a handful of sales to the tally.

Meanwhile, the Golf, Jetta, and Passat all trended downwards as the low-volume Beetle (now sentenced to death) stayed flat. The only monthly bright spots for VW cars? That’s reserved for the next-gen 2019 Jetta sedan, which saw a 10 percent year-over-year increase last month, and the Golf R, which rose 365 percent (to 144 vehicles).

Speaking to Automotive News ahead of the release of the larger, semi-luxury Arteon sedan, Diess said he questions the sentiment that sedans have no place in our automotive future.

“Should we give up on sedans? Some say that, but I don’t think so,” Diess said, pointing to China as something of a canary in a coal mine for the segment.

“In China, for instance, they’ve been shifting toward SUVs for the last 10 years, and incredibly fast for the last five years. Their SUV share now is as high as it is in the United States. It’s an incredible shift. But in the past five months, SUVs have stagnated and sedans are coming back.”

Why the shift? Electrification — a trend taking hold far quicker in China and Europe than the U.S. and Canada. While the EV market here doesn’t have the same level support from governments (here, “support” means as much the penalization of internal combustion vehicle purchases as state subsidies for EVs), battery electric vehicles are indeed making headway. Longer-range battery packs will do that. However, those packs are better at moving vehicles with less mass longer distances.

Physics and cost are, for now, on the side of small cars, Diess said, adding, “the big SUVs have a disadvantage because of their relatively high fuel consumption, which would require huge batteries. So to make big SUVs viable in the electric world is complicated. So if you have 50 km or 50 miles more range on a sedan, you might consider a sedan again.”

Wishful thinking?

[Image: Volkswagen]

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11 Comments on “In a Green Future, VW Boss Sees Hope for Sedans...”

  • avatar

    How do you solve a problem like Volkswagen? Perpetually out of step with market trends, failing to understand the American market, and always putting their money behind losing vehicles. “future buyers won’t decrease their horizons just for the sake of cargo space.” Yes, yes they will.

  • avatar

    I admit I haven’t been paying much attention to the sedan death spiral. Has anyone published stats on what age groups, what income? Is it possible that first-time buyers get sedans and “graduate” to crossovers and SUVs, especially as children enter the picture?

    I speculate that it’s government regs and baby seats that are the cause of the sedan death spiral. I’ve seen too many gripes about the struggles of getting baby seats into back seats, and suspect that raising the car even a couple of inches and expanding that back seat legroom even a couple of inches can make a huge perceived difference in the several-times-a-day struggle.

    But I’m just making a wild guess out of boredom.

    • 0 avatar

      F*in’ coupe rooflines on family sedans, man, it’s madness.

      But if baby-seat convenience were the clincher, we’d all be driving Fiat 500L’s. Take a Kia Soul, stretch the back-seat and cargo areas, and sell it for made-in-Serbia money—boom, ultimate first-kid mobile. But not exactly selling like crazy: my local Fiat dealer still had a new untitled 2014 for sale.

  • avatar

    How Europe can be ahead of US if the only EV made are Teslas? Or they secretly make European EVs we are not aware of?

    • 0 avatar

      Lots of companies make EVs besides Tesla. The Nissan Leaf, Chevy Bolt, Renault Zoe, etc. for starters. But I sure wouldn’t say Europe is “ahead” — infrastructure development varies wildly, and the automakers seem to be all talk and and no action. China, on the other hand..,

      • 0 avatar

        Yeah but if you read blogs it looks like US is hopelessly behind in electrification. But I see tons of Teslas driving around, my neighbor just bought one, charging stations at every office, plaza and store, hybrids galore. When I shopped Fusion 5 years ago I could hardly find gas only models in local dealerships – 80% of all Fusions were hybrids or plugins. It reminds me articles in early 2000s about how US is behind of Japan and Europe in cell phone use and how iMode and Nokia are superior to what ever American use. And then suddenly within a year or so iMode and Nokia go out of business and iPhone and Android make all European and Japanese phones obsolete. When I visited Japan several years ago I was shocked to see how many dumb phones are still in use in Japan while in US it was already ancient artifact.

  • avatar

    How’s Ollie Schmidt doing? Lingering in jail? In the FBI’s witness protection program?

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