Interesting to be in the US this week with Volkswagen, and to hear the mighty German technological powerhouse admit that actually, low-cost simplicity is what’s needed to score success in North America.
“Truth is, we’ve been trying to push over-specified, over-engineered and over-priced cars on the American consumer,” said VW communications expert Christian Buhlmann. That’s quite a statement coming from a VW man, whose employer prides itself on innovation and engineering.
“People who buy sub-$30,000 cars in the US aren’t looking for automatic parking brakes or direct injection engines.
“We know from our market research that they’d like to buy a VW, but can’t afford one because our cars have been at least 10 per cent over-equipped and over-priced for them. So we’re moving downmarket a little in order to tap into the market.”
That’s where the new Jetta comes in. US versions of this car will have a torsion beam back axle, old-fashioned hydraulic power steering, a hard plastic dashboard, torque converter autos instead of DSG ‘boxes and multi-point injection, normally aspirated petrol engines.
As a result of all that, however, they’ll be priced from under $16,000. VW will, for the first time, be able to offer an alternative to a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla saloon that doesn’t come with a cost penalty.
After the Jetta next year will come VW’s midsized saloon; codenamed ‘NMS’, it’ll be a Toyota Camry and Hyundai Sonata rival, but based on VW Golf mechanicals, it’ll be priced much more keenly that a VW Passat.
We won’t get the ‘NMS’ in Europe though – for one very good reason. “We’ve worked the ‘NMS’ trick once before in Europe,” Buhlmann says, “creating a big car on small car mechanicals, and to notable success: that’s what we did with the Skoda Superb.
“People assume the big Skoda must be based on Passat modules because of its size, when in fact it’s more closely related to a Golf.”
So there you have it: if VW really do strike it rich in the US, it’ll be thanks to a recipe it rehearsed in Europe via its budget brand Skoda.