Monday, June 26, 2017

I Shrug At the Atlas

Volkswagen's new intermediate sport utility vehicle - the Atlas - is finally out.
It's quite stylish, and it's solidly Germanic, even though it's built in Tennessee.  It gets decent gas mileage and seats seven in comfort.  And it has some rather funny commercials for it, including this risqué ad below about how procreating in little Volkswagens leads to trading up to bigger Volkswagens.

And I could care less.
The truth is, I'm still not impressed by SUVs, not even Volkswagen SUVs.  My lack of interest is not just due to the fact that I don't need one; it's also due to the fact that I continue to regard wagons built on light-truck chassis as being completely unnecessary and irrational except for those who live out in the country and need the toughness and the durability of a light passenger truck (farmers, ranchers, et. al.).  When I was a kid, growing up in the New Jersey suburbs, only outdoorsmen owned SUVs (they weren't called SUVs back then, though) and those SUVs that were in production were mostly from entry-level, not premium, brands.  Now it seems that every brand offers an SUV - even Porsche - and they're more for stockbrokers than for deer hunters.
I understand that Volkswagen is bringing out a midsize SUV to bring more customers into VW dealerships, as passenger-car segments like hatchbacks, wagons, minivans and now even family sedans are falling behind and SUV sales keep rising with no ceiling in sight.  Not only does VW feel that it needs the Atlas to compete in today's U.S./Canadian market, it wants to put the diesel scandal as far behind it as possible.  But Volkswagen is betraying the market strategy that was so effective for the brand in North America in the first place - that is, offer a car that has no obvious market, as was with the Beetle in 1949, and let the market come to Volkswagen rather than have Volkswagen pander to the market.  Not a way to sell cars in big numbers - Volkswagen sales have never been more than about six percent of the market in These States - but a respectable way to make a name for oneself.  Remember, VW invented a market segment other car companies later exploited to more greater effect - the minivan -  and didn't do too badly with its Transporters here.  If I needed a seven-passenger vehicle, I'd prefer a Transporter minivan over an SUV.  Too bad Volkswagen hasn't sold a passenger van in the U.S. and Canada since 2002 (unless you count the Chrysler-made Routan, which I absolutely don't!).       
Oh yeah, the sixth-generation Polo is coming out, and I have very good news for Americans and Canadians - if you're going to Europe, you can rent one.  Too bad you still can't buy one at home.
I guess we're going to have to get used to Volkswagen's North American strategy - give the people what they want in the form of SUVs and let those vehicles make money so the company can continue to offer traditional Volkswagen models to North American VW enthusiasts, like the Golf and the coming Arteon four-door coupe (I'll get to that, as well as get to the forbidden-fruit Polo, later), as loss leaders.  And while tastes may change, the American predilection for SUVs, pickups, and so-called crossovers shows no sign of abating.  That's why Toyota has a new compact crossover with a rakish, sporting profile, the C-HR, an ad for which is below.  The commercial retells the story of Cinderella in a modern context,  depicting Cinderella as a fashion-house worker who can't go to the fashion show with her two mean coworkers and her snooty boss, i.e., the stepsisters and the stepmother, respectively.  My friend Catherine Roberts, a veteran model, plays the boss.

Hey, Catherine is one of my dearest friends.  I love the woman.  In fact, I love this ad she's in.  But not even she can persuade me to buy a Toyota crossover.  Why?  Because it's a Toyota.  And it's a crossover.
Volkswagen has made it clear that it thinks it has to offer more SUVs in the U.S. and Canada if the brand is going to thrive in both countries. But once upon a time, on this very continent, Volkswagen didn't need to sell cars that pandered to mainstream tastes to succeed.  And that's no fairy tale.   

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