Saturday, April 18, 2015

Cross THIS!

I saw Volkswagen's future in America at the New York Auto Show, and I'm not too crazy about it.
This is the Volkswagen Cross Coupe GTE Concept, a low-slung, five-seat version of the mid-sized seven-seat sport utility vehicle that will be produced in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  This styling exercise was displayed at the New York Auto Show to demonstrate VW's design strategy going forward, though the production vehicle will likely look more conservative than this.  This concept sport-ute is powered by a hybrid set-up with a 3.6-liter V-6 and two electric motors, and it will be one of the powertrain options in the seven-seat version; the others are a VR6 and one or more different diesels.  And this five-seat version may also be produced as well.
But despite how European that all sounds, and despite the European look of this concept car, the overall execution is most likely going to be very American.  Look for the seven-seater to have lots of cupholders, soft seats, and handling as sharp as a wet sponge.  And  Americans will buy them in droves.
Not this American.  Even as European automotive journalists have been lampooning us Yanks for our hideous motoring tastes, I have been loudly and vocally bemoaning VW's choices for the American market . . . though with the realization that Volkswagen has to offer a traditional American SUV if it wants to increase its profile in These States.  The idea is that if Volkswagen sells lots of SUVs in the U.S. and makes tons of money off them, that will allow the firm to offer real VWs to us American VW fans, and sell Golfs at a loss.  I  call this theory supply-side auto sales.  (What about the Polo? The up!?  Sorry, it's a limited trickle-down effect.  Be happy you can get a GTI.)     
The sad fact is that Volkswagen of America, which celebrates its sixtieth anniversary tomorrow, has spent the past forty years being unable to develop a long-term strategy for the American market after having sold boatloads of Beetles for the previous twenty years and dominating a then-small U.S. import car market.  In other words, Volkswagen has been an also-ran here in the United States twice as long as it was on top here.  The problem stems from its inability to come up with a car as lovable and as durable as the Beetle, as well an inability to respond to Americans' penchant for soft, comfortable cars and their indifference to anything else. Anything else includes taut suspension, firm seats, cornering ability, versatile luggage compartments, finely crafted engines that maximize fuel economy and straight on-line performance, soft-touch plastics, and, more recently, trim packages that don't include rear-seat video screens.   When VW tries to modify its product for mass American tastes  - the Westmoreland Rabbit, the 2011 Jetta - it produces a rather bland product that VW enthusiasts don't like much and average car buyers don't care about.  What's even more frustrating is that every time Volkswagen seems to have recovered in America with the right products at the right time, something - persistent quality problems, high service costs - causes it to stumble again in this market.  The revived Beetle was only a temporary solution to its woes.  The B-class Passat couldn't hold its own, and the current NMS-class Passat is just slightly better than competent.  And now, after having thought it understood Americans by offering a midsize car in the style of the Honda Accord or the Toyota Camry, Volkswagen is hoping an Explorer-fighting SUV will be the ticket.
When you think about it, does Volkswagen even have to enjoy huge success to make it in America?  As noted before on this blog, the Beetle never sold more than 400,000 or so units a year in the States, though it was a huge success for its time.  Maybe VW should just offer in America the cars it sells in Europe - including the luscious new B-class Passat - and settle for a smaller and happier customer base.  Volkswagen may be one of only three European auto brands in America with cars priced for the mass market, Fiat and Mini being the other two.  But, like Fiat and Mini, VW only has mass-market prices.  The cars aren't really mass-market products.
If Volkswagen thinks it needs an SUV for America, though, fine.  But I'm sticking with the Golf. 
Oh, yeah, here's the Cross Coupe GTE concept with the doors open, showing the interior.  Again, I don't expect the seven-seater to be this nice.

Both pictures are my own.

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