Tuesday, October 17, 2017

CEO Woebcken: MK7 Jetta to Premiere in Detroit (with Manual)


By: Christopher Compton
As part of the 2017 Redbull Global Rallycross Championship, a few key members of the media were invited to spend some time with VW North America CEO Hinrich Woebcken. It’s always exciting to be granted close to an hour with the leader of any company in an intimate setting, and this was no exception. Hinrich was warm and welcoming. He shared information as openly as a leader in a competitive business can and even took the time to make a call to ensure he gave us accurate information. While quite a bit was covered in the session, we’ve consolidated the most important information for our faithful VWVortex members.
New Models
All-new Jetta
Perhaps the most exciting news Woebcken shared was the all-new MK7 Jetta will premiere in Detroit at NAIAS in January. He described the model as a having a coupe-like shape with a “super modern” and “strong” and “emotional” design character. Much like the previous model, it has been created with the North American market specifically in mind. When asked about interior appointments and overall cost-cutting measures in this new model, something the current Jetta is faulted for, he quickly shrugged the question off. “We have given the car a North American ‘touch’ but not always in terms of low cost and less content, but in much more specific needs of the market. The Jetta will be, for me, a symbolic statement that Volkswagen is changing by really allowing to listen to American customers, American dealers, what the market needs.” From dealer feedback, there will also be a Jetta R-Line available at launch as well. He confirmed two additional rumors: the updated Jetta will be available with a manual transmission essentially from the initial launch, and a GLI model will follow roughly a year from launch. When shown to the dealer network earlier this year, they were “extremely excited” by the all-new model.
Arteon
The CC replacement, the Arteon, will hit dealerships in the second half of 2018. The management team believes this new “beautiful and higher positioned” model will have a stronger sales volume than the CC with a broader customer base. “The Arteon will come with some super features. It’s great for me, even as a 6′ 4″ guy, sitting in comfort in the second row. Lots of leg room.” he said. “It’s kind of a brand-shaper for the brand in this country.”
New Passat
An all-new Passat will premiere in 2019 as a 2020 model. He has seen the car and driven it and is excited about its introduction. “It’s a great looking car.” He also noted it will be an all-new design that is not an evolution of the current model but “it’s different. It’s not evolutionary, so it’s really exciting exterior design” but, he added, “it will be recognizable as a Passat.”
T-Roc/A-segment SUV
Unfortunately, Hinrich confirmed we will not see the T-Roc in the United States. “We’re working on a better idea than the T-Roc for North America.” Just like the all-new Tiguan and Atlas were developed with the needs of our market specifically, a new small SUV will follow that formula. When asked if the euro-only short wheelbase Tiguan is a possibility for us, with a sly smile and gentle laugh, he said: “There’s always possibilities.” While this is far from a confirmation, this animated response differed greatly from others he gave about rumored future models, which were all a version of “We don’t disclose details before they are rock-solid.” Read into that as you will. We most likely will see this new model in 2019; Woebcken noted that “2017 was the year of SUVs, 2018 will be sedan-focused, and 2019 will again focus on SUVs.”
Electric Vehicles
Starting with the first electric model, VW will have a full range of electric models. Another warm smile came from him when talking about the new Microbus “We announced four weeks ago in Pebble Beach that it will be coming here” he said like a proud parent. The flexible MEB platform will spawn an entire range of models “from sedans to crossovers to everything in between” and “with the scale and volume we intend to bring to the market, it’s going to be difficult to beat Volkswagen on the efficiency and scalability” of their electric car efforts.
Additional Points
Some other interesting tidbits that came up in our time with Hinrich:
  • We will see more R-Line vehicles in North America. The R-Line models represent are “an attractive package” for the United States. It is “highly appreciated” and “we intend to grow R-Line.”
  • Woebcken stated that “On the R cars [Golf R and the like] itself, we have interesting future strategic discussions” and added they are “highly appreciated in this market which we want to further develop.”
  • Their Redbull GRC efforts will continue. “It gets young people into the brand.” They will continue to race the two Beetles next year. He did not share which model will be used beyond 2018.
Current Successes
Woebcken is confident that the future is bright for VW, not just because of what’s coming, but because of how what has happened in the last year. Overall, Volkswagen management and Hinrich himself are incredibly pleased with the brand’s recent performance. “The turn around story of Volkswagen is happening!” he said. He highlighted VW’s growth in four of the five major vehicle segments. The Atlas is the brand’s shining star right now; the SUV has been well received by buyers and the media. They’ve “sold out” of models with the center row captain’s chairs and they’re making adjustments in Chattanooga so they can get this popular option to consumers. An Atlas is Hinrich’s personal vehicle.
He noted soberly that in 2016 with no diesel sales, which constituted 25% of their sales mix, overall sales remained flat (a positive taking into account the volume loss of the popular engine option) and is now trending positively. “Year-to-date we are more than 9% up over last year. In September we had a 33% plus [in sales], and in August also 9% plus. And I’m very optimistic that the remainder of the year we also will deliver a nice growth compared to last year so that we overall foresee, I think, a very positive momentum in terms of growth.” In a market that is overall down 2%, Woebcken said: “We have the potential to be the strongest growing brand in this country.” These successes will help VW in their journey to double their market share in the North American region. “Our new governance structure for North America; the United States, Canada, and Mexico, will help our growth” and he emphasized the German HQ takes the North American market “very seriously.”


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