Volkswagen's peak year for sales in the US market was back in 1971, when demand for the Beetle was still high and the company shifted nearly 600,000 cars.
By 1993, that figure had collapsed to just 50,000 cars.
Since then, VW has fought a battle with wildly fluctuating fortunes. Sales last year were around 214,000 units.
However, Stefan Jacoby, the boss of the VW’s US arm is confident that new products will drive VW’s sales up to 450,000 units by 2013 and 800,000 units by 2017.
One of the ways the company will do this is by opening a new factory in Chattanooga. This $1bn dollar investment will employ 11,000 people to build 150,000 of the company’s upcoming ‘Medium Size Sedan’.
The MSS will effectively replace the Passat and benefits VW in two big ways. First it will be less lavishly engineered than the Passat, losing the multi-link rear axle and will have a less extravagant interior treatment.
Secondly the car will be ‘made in America’, a big issue in a country of patriotic car buyers.
Also in Jacoby’s portfolio will be a replacement for the Jetta (the best-selling VW in the US), which will be made in Mexico and is also something of a Golf-light design. US-bound models will also have a torsion beam axle (export models will probably get the Golf’s multi-link rear end) and more practical interior.
The new US Jetta was previewed the ‘New Compact Coupe’ concept unveiled at the Detroit show. The NCC is also said to give a clear look at the future of VW’s new styling language. A saloon and estate version of the NCC are also said to be on the drawing board. At first inspection, there’s no way that the new Jetta family can be described as ‘cheap’. Super-polished surfaces and coolly industrial interior design will make the cars stand out among the Hondas and Toyotas that are such successes in the US market.
However, VW has been down this route before. In the late 1970s, it built a big factory in Pennsylvania to locally manufacture the Golf and, latterly, the Jetta.
The decade-long experiment was fraught with quality and employee problems and, despite building 200,000 cars in 1980, the factory was closed in 1988.
Some analysts say that the Spartan Golf was also well out of step with the 1980s as US buyers shifted back into big cars with big engine and lavish specifications.
VW won’t be contemplating a repeat performance of that debacle. The company reckons that there are enough young, globally influenced, American car buyers out there to transform VW’s fortunes in the world’s second biggest new car market.