Volkswagen Plans Big for Diesels, Golf, Three-Row SUV
The 2014 auto show season seemed a quiet one for Volkswagen. Detroit witnessed barely anything more than a tarted up Beetle Dune, Geneva saw only the unremarkable T-ROC and GTE concepts, and the Beijing show brought the understated Midsize Coupe concept. It was only at the New York auto show that we got our first whiff of the important cars to come in Volkswagen's stable—the diesel, all-wheel-drive Golf SportWagen concept, and the new EA288 TDI-equipped 2015 Volkswagen Jetta.
Automobile sat down for a round-table discussion with new Volkswagen of America CEO Michael Horn and product planning vice president Joerg Sommer at the 2014 New York auto show. They confirmed that, over the next few years, Volkswagen will advance a product offensive in the U.S. that will focus on the Golf, diesel power (beginning with the recently-introduced EA288 TDI engine), and a new three-row SUV.
The Year of Golf: 2014-2015
Compared to Europe, the U.S. has never been a hot market for the compact Golf hatchback. American buyers continue to favor sedans, and thus the Jetta remains Volkswagen's best-selling vehicle in North America, easily outstripping Golf sales. Volkswagen will look to turn that tide in the coming year, as the Golf hits U.S. shores in numerous flavors ranging from the electric e-Golf to the diesel-powered Golf SportWagen.
"2014-2015 will be the Year of Golf," Sommer said at the 2014 Detroit auto show. The push will begin with the 2015 Volkswagen Golf's arrival, most likely at the end of May, alongside the fan-favorite Volkswagen GTI. Both models, riding on VW's new modular MQB platform, will be built at the company's Puebla, Mexico facility; previously, Golfs sold here were imported from Europe.
The Volkswagen GTI, which costs just $195 more than the 2014 car despite being an all-new model, will cater to the same market of enthusiasts as it has in the past. The question remains, however—how does VW plan to get more Americans into their Golf vehicles?
"The GTI is still a niche vehicle, but our plan for Golf is to focus in part on marketing initiatives," VW of America product manager Mark Gillies told Automobile in an interview. Another major aspect will be building on the Golf name by expanding its lineup to include the standard Golf, Golf TDI, GTI, e-Golf (arriving either this November or in first-quarter 2015), Golf R, and the recently uncovered Golf SportWagen.
We got our first look at the Golf SportWagen, which is set to arrive in gasoline- and diesel-powered form early in 2015, at the 2014 New York auto show. The SportWagen body style adopts the Golf name instead of its previous Jetta moniker, which Gillies contends will, "strengthen the Golf name with a bit more cachet, without taking away from Jetta." Given that the new SportWagen uses the Golf's MQB platform rather than the older underpinnings of the 2015 VW Jetta, it's also a more accurate badging.
Enthusiasts were overjoyed to see that the Golf SportWagen TDI concept featured a diesel powertrain, manual transmission, and a traditional wagon bodystyle. While we'll get a TDI variant, the jury is still out on whether all-wheel drive will come to the U.S. "We will gauge consumer and media reaction to best determine if 4Motion all-wheel drive will join the SportWagen in North America," Horn said in New York. "A discussion will take place about it by this summer."
We love the idea, but recognize that the Haldex-built system might be a tough sell, because the Golf will be built in Puebla and Volkswagen's 4Motion systems are currently built in Wolfsburg, Germany.
"Looking at Subaru's success with all-wheel drive in America, it could be a big opportunity for VW," said Gillies. It's still too early to say whether the tooling for an all-wheel-drive system would be produced in Puebla or at VW's plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Leveraging Diesel Technology
While Subaru built its current reputation in America on the shoulders of its permanent all-wheel-drive system, VW has the potential to make diesel engines its unique selling point for consumers.
The company has waffled on its identity and place in the U.S. market for years now, vacillating between a Honda-like strategy of affordable quality as evidenced by the Jetta, and a pseudo-premium angle as manifested in the failing, last-generation Passat. After years of management struggles in the U.S.—Jonathan Browning was tossed out as CEO in December—VW and new CEO Michael Horn could stand to seriously benefit from employing the EA288 diesel engine as lynchpin for the brand's long-term strategy.
'We're going to leverage the EA288 TDI more in the near future," Horn said in New York. We previously reported that the new 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel engine, which is both more powerful and more efficient than its predecessor, would be utilized in the Golf, Golf SportWagen, Jetta, Beetle, and Passat. When the next-gen Volkswagen Tiguan arrives, possibly at the end of this year, it too would presumably include the new TDI as an option.
Three-Row Crossover to Round out the Pack
Although Volkswagen is awfully tight-lipped about it, we do know that a future Chattanooga-built, three-row SUV is a major component of the German automaker's sales strategy in the U.S. Arriving in 2016, the large crossover will be "an awesome benchmark" for the segment, according to Sommer.
"It will be a true Volkswagen," he continued. "High quality, emotional, design-focused, and with class-leading innovation. We're looking mainly at the U.S. market."
No doubt a three-row crossover is the missing link in Volkswagen's current lineup, wherein the pricey and luxurious, but aging Touareg doesn't quite meet the demands of the current marketplace. If VW hopes to achieve its goal of ramping up U.S. sales to 800,000 annually, the so-called three-row "B SUV" will have to be compelling enough to expand VW's consumer demographic beyond its current limitations in the small and mid-size sedan segments.