The world’s most expensive TV advertising spots feature between breaks in the play of the Super Bowl, the American football final held every February.
Amazingly a 30 second slot costs a cool $1m and last year Volkswagen took two slots to support its push in the world’s second biggest car-market. The appeal is not just to connect with football fans, but the massive TV audience, many of whom tune in solely to watch the ads.
The ‘mini-Vader’ Stars Wars ad that launched the new US-built Passat is said to have given VW and its subsidiary brands such a boost that it helped record its best sales results in the US for 39 years last year.
Last year VW alone recorded its best sales figures in the US since 1981, 325k units. All this matters because the world’s biggest car-company is sinking a massive amount of investment into the US in an attempt to claw back decades of lost opportunities. ‘We have suffered years of underperformance in the US compared to the rest of the world and wehave to fix it,’ says Jonathan Browning, the British-born boss of VW of America.
VW now has 14 per cent of the Chinese market, 12 per cent of the European and eight per cent of the global market, but just 2.5 per cent of the US. ‘People like the brand but haven’t been purchasing a car when they go to a dealership,’ adds Browning.
Having ridden in a roomy US Passat, it’s easy to see how its son-of-Phaeton, high-quality interior, dripping with trad wood and leather, appeals to the US audience more than the austere European version.
With this goal in mind, VW has sunk £1b into a new factory in Chattanooga, which started operating early in 2011 and will reach its 150k capacity of US-model Passats by the end of 2013. Chattanooga will have to add more capacity because 150k isn’t enough for long-term profitability. It will also leave the Passat trailing its rivals, the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, which each sell over 300k units.
At the moment, the best guess is that a new shed will be added to Chattanooga to build a Passat-based SUV, known internally as the ‘B SUV’, B is VW’s designation for the Passat’s sales segment. Likely to be engineered with short and long wheelbases, the short wheelbase SUV will be a five-seater to replace the Tiguan, while the long-wheelbase will be a 5+2 seven-seater to take on the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander. Both should be on the market around 2013/14.Although it is unclear still whether either model will cross the pond to the UK and Europe.
Later today VW will unveil two new designs at Detroit that will add weight to efforts to raise sales nearly three fold in the US to 800k by 2018. That’s a very long way to go, but VW appears to be building strong foundations in a market where previous efforts have too easily been undermined.