How to fix a problem like VW in North America

Published: 01 December 2014

It seemed a good idea for Volkswagen at the time. Build a new factory in America, launch a dedicated new model, watch US sales soar from 270,000 to 400,000 units. But in mid-2013, the ramped-up euphoria died a sudden death as VW of North America started to lose sales and market share, a process which has continued to the present day.

In the first 10 months of 2014, VW sales have slumped 12% in north America to 301,000, according to the Automotive News Data Center – while every other VW Group brand has enjoyed growth.

What happened? Well, it seems VW failed to understand the fundamental expectations of the American car buyer, who requires constant surprises and delights, ideally both in terms of design and content.

What went wrong for VW in Amercia?

American car buyers love sedans and SUVs. Guess what VW does not have enough of? The Golf-based Jetta is almost too small for the US, the US-spec Passat needs a quick freshening-up and a timely successor, the imported Passat CC remains a pricey niche model, the Phaeton Mk2 earmarked for late 2016 will in all probability be positioned out of reach on cloud nine…

The answer to the marque’s most urgent needs may well be an all-new, in-between offering codenamed C1 – also known internally as Passat Plus and Passat Sports Sedan.

Depending on its still-to-be-defined DNA, this additional model would either be built by VW in Chattanooga or by Audi in Mexico.

VW Project C1: new Passats specifically designed for the US

The choice of concepts has lately narrowed down to two alternatives. Using the current Audi A6 (codenamed C7, engine installed north-south, MLB platform) as donor car, one version of NFS (new full-size sedan) would be a mildly modified iteration of the maker’s first up-market world car, the production of which will commence in China in 2015.

A rival proposal is a relatively straightforward saloon based on the Golf Mk7’s clever-clogs MQB architecture, meaning a transversely mounted drivetrain. While the Passat-based MLB spin-off could in 2016 roll off the same line as the related new Q5, the MQB model would be assembled in Tennessee.

Extra bodystyles for the new American sedan

In addition to the sports sedan, C1 may be offered as sports cruiser which is VW-speak for a sleek crossover/shooting brake hybrid. The product planner we spoke to insists that this is neither a traditional wagon nor a five-door coupe, but a so-called ‘B/C shift car’, which combines a higher roofline with a 2.5-box silhouette.

Not surprisingly, the whole C1 project has been inspired by Toyota who staked out this segment so well with the closely related Camry and Avalon.

More products aimed at the US market

Other VWs in the pipeline to help address its lack of success in north America include the Jetta SportWagen complete with Alltrack derivative, a 400bhp-plus Golf GT-R, a Golf plug-in hybrid and, with a bit of luck, a diesel-engined 240bhp Golf GTD.

Under discussion but not yet approved for North America are the Tiguan CC, a five-door Jetta coupe modelled after the 2013 NMC concept and a coupe version of the CrossBlue, which may put in an early appearance as a design exercise at the Detroit auto show in January 2015.

By Georg Kacher

European editor, secrets uncoverer, futurist, first man behind any wheel