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We were recently invited to a one-on-one exchange of thoughts about where the Volkswagen brand is headed in North America. Our captive audience was VW North America CEO Jonathan Browning – former General Motors global sales boss – and VWNA's new product marketing and strategy vice president, Rainer Michel, brought over from the VW home offices where he oversaw the small car product lineup.

To its credit, VW knows better than anyone the uphill battle that awaits it in North America over the next ten or so years. They need to win our sympathies back after disrespecting them over the past 20 or so years with sub-par quality. So far, sales in the U.S. are looking vastly better than levels of years past.

They know this, too. So, they're not just cramming all 50 states with low-priced sheetmetal and sitting back to count the money. They're re-educating every dealership, every corporate employee, and as many prospective shoppers as they can reach. Various VWNA leaders have been going around already to dealer groups nationwide to rewire the grassroots awareness for the brand so that all parties doing the selling are on the same wavelength.

"Our top three priorities for company-wide improvement," says Browning, "are upstream product quality, prompt fault resolution, and comprehensive handover to the customer." Yep, it definitely sounds to us like they've been listening to the roaring chorus of blogs and outspoken consumer groups. It's back-to-basics from the new Chattanooga plant to post-sale customer care.

The biggest news is that there's also a whole test drive road show planned to start in September of this year and continuing through March or so of 2012. Market by market, people will be able to test drive various Jetta and Passat trims, VW being particularly eager to get the Jetta GLI into drivers' buying minds, followed closely by the all-new U.S.-specific Passat sedan.

[Image: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty]

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      Hint: Stop trying to blame common-rail TDI drivers for filling their fuel tanks with gasoline when the high-pressure fuel pump fails, when the real problem (and you know it and NHTSA knows it) is the design of the high-pressure fuel pump combined with poor US standards for diesel fuel lubricity (which you knew about when you introduced the car)!

      And while you're at it, get your dealers to stop filling engines with the wrong oil. The VW507.00 5w30 oils cause problems with camshafts when used in the previous-generation TDI engine, regardless of the claim that those oils meet VW505.01.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Yup - and I like the car, and mine has been quite good. But it's never seen the inside of a dealer since the last service visit before the warranty ended. If I do the oil change myself, I know what goes in it. It's hard to ignore the stories from some fellow owners, though.
        • 4 Years Ago
        You sound like a man who owns a TDI!

      • 4 Years Ago
      I know they've got a few quality issues to deal with, but I'd like to see them be just slightly more daring in the design dept. I know it's part of their appeal for some, but a few of their newest offerings look like 21st century K-Cars. Great drivers though.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Seems like people have been having horrible experiences at VW dealerships. Here in PA, our VW dealership is fantastic. Very nice and honest people. My mother has a 2010 GTI and they've always been very nice to her. Last year, my mom in all her brilliance hit a HUGE rock in the road one day. She blew the tire, messed up the wheel hub and cracked the bumper. She took it in to get it fixed, expecting to pay full price. They replaced everything free of charge even though it wasn't covered under warranty!!!

      I love her little GTI and think it's a great car. I drive an 03 Cavalier and an 02 z06. I'd take my older sports car over a newer regular car any day, because hey - it's a Corvette. It's faster than any VW, handles better, looks cooler and is cheaper. However if I had the money to buy a new car, I wouldn't hesitate to buy a new VW. Good on VW for listening to complaints and taking proactive steps to correct them. Other car manufacturers need to follow suit.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Improve your horrible dealership here in Tulsa Ok if you expect to ever sell any of them around here. The bad service was 90% of the reason I sold my Jetta after 2 years.
        • 4 Years Ago
        And that was one of the reasons that I sold my 2000 GTI. Not only did the car break down often, but it would take several trips to the dealer to get it fixed, and the dealer did not have rental cars on site. So at least once per month I didn't get to the office until 10 AM because I had to take my car to the dealership. Completely unacceptable.
      • 4 Years Ago
      It would take a lot of convincing to get me to buy a new VW. I hope their campaign and devotion to quality improvement is a success. Lord knows they need it.
      • 4 Years Ago
      If VW wants to compete in the US, they need to take a close look at how their customer service is perceived. Right now it appears to be dismal. Their products, particularly diesels, are attractive to a segment of the US market, but problems with customer service make prospective buyers wary.
        • 4 Years Ago
        And with diesels coming from other makers in the near future, they won't be able to rest on that as much as they have in the past.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Subpar quality? Hardly...VWs are very well built and finished, out of high quality materials. That doesn't mean however that they're reliable. Those are two very different things. Old Kias and Hyundais were pretty cheap feeling cars, but they were pretty dependable.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I have 85000 on my 03 Golf TDI. No problems at all to this point.
        50+ MPG with stick - "Great car".
        • 4 Years Ago
        Congrats - I'm green with envy as you sir are the exception (and by no means the rule). Consider yourself lucky...

        Love my MKIV, but it hasn't been w/o issue (actually a number of the very same issues mentioned above - MAF, Coil-Pack, etc.).
      • 4 Years Ago
      I owned a 1991 Corrado. I don't like to lease and prefer to own my cars and purchased it in cash. At that time at a MSRP of close to $25K this was the most expensive US VW. I loved the car, the way it handled, the design BUT what I didn't like were the 5 recalls, busted alternator at 39K miles and my poor dealer experience. I sold the car in 1995 and never purchased another VW again. Yes I do salivate at VW/Audi products but I have been reading current owner experiences of both brands very closely and it appears that VW/Audi still has a long way to go in terms of product reliability and customer service. I have my eye on the new Toureg but I will sit on the fence a little bit later. On a side note, it was very interesting to see the video of a man in China having his $950K Lamborghini (a division of VW/Audi) destroyed by sledgehammers because of product reliability and dealer customer service. It seem that VW will only suceed if they outsource their electronics to Japan making their products much more reliable.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Japanese cars are reliable these days? Really?
        • 4 Years Ago
        @fastalan, I put 40,000 miles on my GTI. I replaced it with an '03 4Runner that I've put 100,000 miles on. Over the course of that 40k miles, I took my GTI to the dealer 3 times more than I've taken my 4Runner to the dealer in 100k miles. The first year I owned it, my GTI was in the dealership 11 times.

        The things I had replaced on my GTI included:

        - AC condensor
        - thermostat
        - MAF
        - starter motor
        - rear shock top mounts and rear struts twice, and they needed to be replaced when I sold it.
        - turn signal stalk
        - most all running, brake, and headlight lamps multiple times
        - coil pack
        - spark plugs and plug wires

        On my 4Runner, outside of regular maintenance I've replaced:

        - rear hatch motor and striker plate
        - heating fan motor
        - skid plate (due to rust, but I take it out on the ocean beach)
        - rear half of the exhaust system
      • 4 Years Ago
      Maybe it just wasn't mentioned in the above article.

      But gee, did VW mention that it is oblivious to the model choices we've been asking for. FOR THE LAST 15 YEARS!!!

      So they're going to invite everyone to drive a new Passt and Jetta........yawn. HEY VW!!! Why don't you bring a Touran, a Sharan, a Eurovan, Scirocco, and some other cars you won't bring here - to see how much we don't like those models. Maybe then you'll see the reaction we give and then a light will go off in your head as to we want.

      Oh, don't forget to wear your Volksyota name badges.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I understand all that.

        But after drinking the VW kool-aid for the last 40 plus years it has gotten a little sour. Of course he's here to set and tow the company line. It's clear that the VW mandate is to over-take Toyota. Fine. If you want to know what customers want from your company there are better ways than to build what another company is building. Sometimes corporate creativity goes a long way to capturing the market by listening to what VW customers want.

        It would be a SMART move for them to bring some models with just to gauge the responses. It's not rocket science to anyone other than VW.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Browning actually does know how nice it would be to have the European models come over, but it's not that easy a thing to do lickety-split. That and the fact that this VW approach to the U.S. - hit us with a lot of lower-priced "practical luxury" cars (goal is 5 percent over the median segment price) to achieve crucial market penetration - is no-doubt somewhat a policy inherited by Browning, not crafted by him from the get-go. He wants the Scirocco very badly, is keen to bring the Bulli mpv from Geneva, and really wants VW to do much better with the Tiguan small SUV. But they cannot do it all on all fronts at once. Getting the Chattanooga plant up and fully running is a massive investment and the n.1 priority for the moment. Then the larger NA Passat etc.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Owned a mk IV Golf, LOVED it until, like, EVERYTHING started falling apart around 50k. I pampered it, too, like a prized dachshund.

      If they can simply make the cars as reliable as Chevy and get their dealers to treat their customers as if they're valued, they'll be laying a solid foundation for a Hyundai-style comeback. Hell, they don't even need to make the cars reliable, just make the dealer garages treat customers like MINI does. Tart up the designs after you've mastered the basics, marketing won't solve this thing.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Ever since the supersizing of the Golf/Rabbit I've been waiting for the Polo. I love the idea of great MPG for when gasoline gets to $5+ per gallon.
      Give me a Polo with a 6 speed transmission, no power windows, no sunroof, no fanboy GPS, no conestoga wheel/tire set-ups, no electric seats, and a pretty basic radio set-up.
      If I can get something like this I'll keep it for a long long time.
      • 4 Years Ago
      tell me about vw's commitment to its us customers and a golf tdi with 10000miles on it sitting in my yard with water in its oil. our local vw dealer did its 10000 ml service and only put 1 litre of oil back into the engine. who knows what damage has been done to it but our friendly vw dealer claims no responsibility and vw says not their problem. im sure with customer service like this vw sales will do just fine.(sarcasm). i know for sure they or any of our friends will never own one again. btw i owned six vw in europe in the past.
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