It takes a certain confidence to use the word “momentum” if you’re an automaker these days. However, that’s precisely what Stefan Jacoby, CEO of VW of America, did as he introduced the Golf, aka Rabbit, aka Golf, aka Rabbit, in New York. In his view, Volkswagen Group’s record sales and $1.8 billion in profits in 2008 makes “momentum” appropriate, even if sales went down in the loss-making U.S. to 223,128 total units, a decrease of 3.2% versus 2007.
The year 2009, when the sixth generation Golf appears, will be an entirely different matter. VW Group is projecting a loss for the first quarter and thinks even with the new compact that debuted at Paris last fall – its most popular selling car globally – production will decline 10%. The U.S. market is running at a 10 million annual rate, reflecting the worst economic collapse in a generation, and where VW has struggled for decades against higher quality Japanese makes. It’s telling about attitudes in the parent company that the new Golf debuts first in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia before finally arriving here this autumn.
The Golf, though, is a bright spot, even though it is again suffering from VW’s latest reinvention of a reinvention of itself in the U.S. While Rabbit is an appropriate marketing moniker for easy going ‘mericans, it won’t do for the rest of the world where an auto purchase is a more serious financial matter. And apparently it won’t do in the U.S. — once again — as VW’s stated goal to “outperform” the industry as a whole and to gain additional share globally is hinged on universal marketing names.
As a relatively fuel efficient two- and four-door hatchback offered with an extremely efficient, if unfashionable, 2-liter turbocharged diesel engine that’s capable of 30 mpg in city driving, the Golf is the right car at the right time. The turbocharged, 200 horsepower GTI performance version comes with a six-speed manual transmission or on optional six-speed dual-clutch automatic. It provides some advertising sizzle, if not some high sales numbers. (more…)