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What VW should do next

Thu, 23 Nov 2006

By Georg Kacher

Motor Industry

23 November 2006 09:59

A new boss takes the reins of VW in January, and Martin Winterkorn has some big decisions to make about VW's plans.

VW's future model policy lacks variety. But it's been like that for years, with the people's car maker slow to pick up on booming niches like mid-size MPVs and SUVs, or folding tin-top cabrios. Sports cars have fallen by the wayside, and exciting concepts like the Microbus or GX3 racer overlooked for production. At long last, there are some notable cars in the pipeline, though. Its Freelander rival, the Tiguan, will be unveiled next week. And a successor to the Scirocco coupe arrives in 2008.

But that's where the excitement ends – and it doesn't have to. We would like to see a VW version of the upcoming Skoda Yeti, an affordable roadster and a new retro model like a buggy, a kuebel, a compact microbus or a true new Beetle. Even such logical and easy-to-do proposals like a CrossPassat 4Motion or a CrossTouran 4Motion – pumped up, four-wheel drive versions of existing cars – get stuck in the decision-making maze. On another note, does Volkswagen really need all these van-like products - forthcoming Polo MPV, Caddy, Golf Plus, Touran, new Sharan, T5 and the Sportvan, a Ford S-Max rival?

Winterkorn also has some big product decisions on his hands. What happens to the unsuccessful bookends for the VW range: the Fox at the bottom and the Phaeton at the top? There are other issues, too. VW must adhere to its long-time ambition to be the premium brand in the volume market - premium in terms of design, quality, engineering and aftersales. This premium perception is a must to consolidate VW's image, which in turn is an indispensable lever to implement slightly higher prices. It's these prices which in turn allow the brand to offer more cars and better content. At the moment, however, VW is taking the wrong turns. Volkswagen is being forced increasingly into the incentives game, and the warning sign of softening residuals is flashing. And decontenting is the name of the game. For example, engineers are charged with making the next Golf less complex and cheaper to build. But will quality take a dive?

By Georg Kacher