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First Drive: Volkswagen Passat

VW says Americans want a big, smooth midsizer with nondescript styling. Is that true?

by on May.09, 2012

Volkswagen aims to take over the title of world's biggest automaker with cars like the new Passat.For decades, Volkswagens were the car you bought if you wanted something just a bit different than the Camrys, Accords and Malibus. If you lust after a more expensive German sedan, but you’re spending Chevrolet money.

For a long time, it worked well enough. The brand’s small, but loyal band of fans bought them because they had real German engineering at a much more manageable price than BMW, Audi or Mercedes and because they weren’t Camrys, Accords or Malibus.

But the objectives in Wolfsburg have changed. VW has made it very clear that it wants to be the largest automaker in the world. You may be thinking “Geez, I probably see eight Toyotas for every VW,” but Volkswagens are more popular throughout the rest of the world. VW also has nine other brands – a couple of which Americans don’t even know exist. Besides the eponymous brand, VW also has owns Audi, Bugatti, Bentley and Lamborghini. But it also has SEAT and Skoda – European brands that have never been sold here.

Anything But Nondescript!

While Europe and other world markets are far bigger to VW than is the U.S., the automaker still decided it needed to increase sales here to reach its goals.

So, the automaker decided that if it was going to increase U.S. sales, it would need to follow the script written by Toyota, one of the automakers it will have to surpass. It would make cars tailored to the tastes of the American majority, rather than the few who appreciated the slightly quirky VW of old.

One of the products of that effort is this Passat, a car that VW expects to help lead its U.S. sales surge. The automaker has made a $1 billion bet on the Passat with a sparkling new plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.


Behind the Beetle Redesign

VW design chief explains his strategy for the critical redesign.

by on Apr.19, 2011

"A beloved icon."

Seventy-five years ago, there was no Beetle.  There was only the “people’s car,” or Volks Wagen.  And even that little car might have vanished into the wreckage of World War II were it not for an enterprising British officer who found one of the few models to survive amidst the rubble at a plant in Wolfsburg, Germany.

Eventually, what the little insect-like coupe would go on to become the most popular car in automotive history, ultimately selling nearly 5 million copies before it was replaced by the “New” Beetle, in 1998.  The update has proven controversial and far less successful.  No wonder Klaus Bischoff the Volkswagen brand design chief was nervous when given the challenge of developing what was to become only the second complete redesign of the Beetle in three quarters of a century.

Stay Plugged In!

There was plenty of debate inside the German automaker as to whether the Beetle should even be updated or simply abandoned, Bischoff tells  His position was simple: “I didn’t want to lose this beloved icon for the brand.”

But as he and his team set out to come up with a suitable replacement, Bischoff says it was clear they had to both look forward and backwards at the same time.