In a world where Japan and the U.S. strive to compete for the reigns in car manufacturing, it might seem a bit odd to see an European presence up there. Despite being the father continent of the industrial revolution without which we wouldn’t be discussing manufacturer lists nowadays, the continuous technological shift has left Europe behind in many respects. But even in conditions such as these, leave it to German clockwork manufacture to still challenge for worldwide supremacy.
The Volkswagen presence in the U.S. – under the Volkswagen Group of America subsidiary, with its headquarters in Herndon – has steadily been developing for more than half a century, with 2015 marking the 60th anniversary of the German manufacturer’s American division. In this context, 2014 was a great year award-wise – the new Golf family, or the VW rabbit as most U.S. customers name it, brought home a wide range of awards, from green prizes to 2015 car of the year awards, bringing back memories of similar feats accomplished in 1981 or 1984.
Publicity Stunts Still Make Sales Slump
And the German car dealer also tries to bring a positive view about itself: it sponsored a country wide national soccer tournament, which sent the Cal South’s SoCal United team to an international competition held in Rome. Worldwide, Volkswagen is trying to raise its popularity in the sports market, with partnerships ranging from Bundesliga teams to the Chinese Basketball League. And probably on the more important specter of public image, career opportunities and job options within the company have been totally open to the U.S public.
But the December 2014 sales report and year-end statistics published in January doesn’t tell the brightest of stories for the US branch of VW. Despite trying to mask it by bringing the merits of the new Golf family forward, numbers tell a blunt tale for Volkswagen USA: 2014’s total sales volume has gone by about 40,000 units compared to 2013, meaning a 10% drop in new VW models sold throughout the country.
Actually, Golf-series and spin-offs were the only ones responsible for the lack a more drastic plunge; as Golf GTI’s and e-Golfs were the only models that saw a rise in sales, with the exception of the Jetta Sedan. The rest of the VW catalogue had negative plunges varying from 1.8% to 45%. Worst of the pack was the Volkswagen Routan once considered as the one to continue the legacy of the T2 campervan, which was pulled off the market after selling a measly quantity of 1.103 units in the first nine months of 2014.
VW’s sedans maintained a steady pace overall, with the Jettas still amounting for 50 percent of overall sales, but a 10% drop in new Passats sold prompted the manufacturer to announce a 2018 return of the luxury convertible Phaeton. The Touaregs, once cool enough to be marketed alongside Peter Jackson movies in 2006, is slowly going extinct with less than 7.000 units sold in 2015.
Past success hinders present efforts
But it’s the Beetles that mostly provided the dent in sales for VW. The modern edition of the antique charismatic bug-cars sold about 25,000 units less in 2014 than in 2013. Every other professional review claims they are overpriced for they can offer as specs, with a new VW Beetle for sale at between $20.000 and $30.000 at retailers.
The problem is VW are counting on nostalgia and a somewhat retro aspect to sell on their own, but the new models are beaten at it by millions of Bugs they unleashed on the market in the decades the original models were marketed. Consider this: you can find a used 1980 classic VW bug for sale at under $10.000 in a variety of colors from white to pink, in decent shape and mileage; of course, taking the risk that it might not last as long as the newer types of these super baby cars.
But rumors don’t have Volkswagen renouncing the challenge of bringing retro into harmony with modern times. Rumors of a new diesel pickup truck named Tristar have surfaced, which would have something akin to a mobile office front-side. But this has been overshadowed by the yearly rumors that surface about a US release of a new campervan version similar to the legendary T2.
The elusive new VW bus
Seeing a new VW bus for sale might represent the nostalgic paroxysm of any old hippie, but it will have to wait. The newest version of the van – nicknamed California for some reason – will probably never reach the US. It is instead marketed as a family friendly multi-purpose vehicle, and, despite multiple claims that it’s going to happen in the last years, as of now no plans for a US release have been made public.
New VW campervans have not been available at retailers since 2003, with plans to resurface it in 2006, 2007 and 2009 going awry. And it probably won’t in the near future. Declining sales mean that while VW finances did not take that much of a blow overall, the company can’t really be called on to take a risk. A new Volkswagen bus for sale in the US would cost $65.000 without adding a 1970’s 25% tax on minivans imported from Germany and France, so it’s safe to say that the price restriction would scare away even the most ardent of nostalgics.
It’s not to say that even with a lower price tag it would be enough to bolster VW sales, or at least contribute to a more modern image of the company. Thing is, it’s the Beetles themselves that demonstrate how trying to compromise nostalgia for the modern is slowly failing. It may be time for the German giant to realize that it’s not only hockey jerseys and a knack for nostalgia that will keep it competing on the U.S. market; and while its position isn’t critical enough to go down under yet, it might want to reconsider future plans.
Maybe a stronger emphasis on models such as the Tiguan would offer a new image that would help the manufacturer shake off these shadows of its past that are now slowing it down significantly, and threaten to choke it completely in the future.