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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