We had this killer plan to divide and conquer the massive Frankfurt motor show, only it didn’t work. Well, it worked for deputy editor Joe DeMatio, because he assigned himself the onerous task of drinking champagne while accompanying photographer Martyn Goddard from hall to hall as our trusty lensman shot a portfolio of CEO portraits.
My job was twofold: First, attend a small, early-morning media roundtable with two Volkswagen board of management members and Jonathan Browning, the guy who runs VW in the United States. The second part was to cover the VW Group’s eight press conferences, one every fifteen to twenty minutes, which produced a nonstop cavalcade of cars in a hall large enough to qualify as an entire auto show all by itself.
I was smart enough to ask for help before I left Ann Arbor. I would cover the car reveals, if you would do the interview. That is, those of you who were trolling our Facebook page and saw my call for questions to pose to the VW heavies. I had unusual access to Browning, to VW vehicle development head Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg, and to sales and marketing chief Christian Klingler, and I figured you Facebookers would have better questions than the usual “When will we get the Scirocco?”
“Why can’t we have the Scirocco?” you barked back.
“We’re taking the first step by bringing the Golf R to the U.S. market,” answered Browning. “That is really hard-core, enthusiast VW territory. It will have 4Motion, and it will only have a manual. The current generation of Scirocco is not going to make it here, but who knows in the future.”
You’re a little bit more, uh, aggressive than I would typically be, parked as you apparently are in your bedrooms without human interaction. I mean, did you really think I would ask the soft-spoken and sincere Klingler, “Why did you ruin the Jetta?” Because this is what he thinks about the Jetta: “We have seen that the Jetta is getting a good welcome back.”
But, hey, have at it. Here is more of your interview:
Why did you kill the U.S. Passat wagon?
JB: We don’t disclose the details of our product portfolio, but I will say that there is a role for both SUVs and wagons. We want to build on the various body styles that are available globally.
When can I buy the UP! in the United States?
UH: UP! was not made for the U.S. It’s possible we could sell it there, if you ask for it. But it would need various technical adaptations for crash and emissions.
Why don’t you bring the turbo-diesel Tiguan to North America?
JB: I would love to have TDI on the Tiguan. As we go forward, we’ll expand that lineup. More and more customers are understanding the advantage that TDI represents.
Will the Phaeton ever return?
CK: If I had been [with Volkswagen] four years ago, I would never have given up on the Phaeton. Never in my life.
Why do VWs always have their hoods up on the side of the road? Is it a safety feature?
JB: We’ve put in place a new approach to managing quality in the U.S. market. We brought in a very experienced leader as our VP of group quality. He is working with the local market organization, with the central development teams, and with manufacturing to make sure U.S. customer expectations and the U.S. perception of quality is really understood by the total global organization. We’re improving the way we respond to specific issues in the U.S., and we’re putting in a prevention process to avoid repeat problems in terms of small issues that irritate U.S. customers.
UH: We are going to second- and third-tier suppliers to check for quality, so we have very early knowledge about whether something is going wrong. We know there is risk with high volumes and with using a lot of the same parts in different models. It’s like a multiplying vector.
Why is the Volkswagen warranty only half that of Hyundai’s?
JB: We not only have a warranty, but also carefree maintenance that covers your cost of ownership for the first three years. I think that’s actually a stronger, more confident statement to the customer.
In your quest for world domination, how do you avoid the pitfalls suffered by GM and Toyota before you?
CK: It’s important that you understand that, on the board of VW, there are only car guys. That’s not the case at GM as far as I know. We are all dedicated to the cars. We are all working on the cars together.