VW drives into the middle of the road ~ Brand Mix

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

VW drives into the middle of the road

Photo: Max by mcchots (Flickr CC)

Volkswagen's U.S. chief executive, Stefan Jacoby describes his intentions to reposition VW from niche to mass appeal in an interview with the Washington Post, perhaps leaving behind Max, the star of recent campaigns. Here are selected highlights of the article with the thoughts running through my (current Audi and 3-time VW owner) head as I was reading the article:

Article: Germany's Volkswagen is "an icon brand" and "there are a lot of great stories and memories" about the Beetle, Jacoby said in an interview. But, he added, "to play a bigger role here, we need to modify and adapt to American consumers' needs."

Me: Uh, oh. This doesn't sound good. Why does adapting to consumer needs mean ditching great stories and memories?

Article: Here, there is more cruising and long-distance driving. In Europe, there are more tiny roads and you drive more actively than in the United States," Jacoby said. "We Germans drive and we are not drinking in the car," he added. "Americans have breakfast and coffee in the car. We have to adjust to this."

Me: VW has been in the U.S. market since the 1950s. This can't be where they've gotten to in terms of insight. And what's with the "We Germans" attitude?

Article: Jacoby, 51, offered few details about the cars, other than that they will be among the first Volkswagen vehicles built specifically for American taste. The cars will have a decidedly less European feel, with a more user-friendly steering wheel and entertainment system, an accelerator and brake pedal that are farther apart, and larger cup holders."

Me: Larger cup holders? And haven't they had enough of the distance between accelerator and brake issue after this? More importantly, isn't European a key defining characteristic of a VW and an important reason that people buy the cars? What do they want instead of a European feel? An American feel, represented by, say, GM?

Article: Audi officials say they do not intend to duplicate the Volkswagen strategy in Americanizing the cars.

Me: Phew! Leave my Audi alone!

(Apologies to Mr. Jacoby if the Post article does not fairly or accurately reflect his opinions.)


John Rees said...

Jacoby and VW should review their customer service first. View my VW experience at:

Cynthia Murnane said...

Nice one Martin. Right on point. People who buy VW's and Audi's are attracted to the European ideal. German engineering and design...I guess some companies can't leave well enough alone. Although I agree that they might rethink Helga, She is funny and all but let's talk about putting the baby out with the bathwater. I feel sorry for Porsche, will that be next?

alex@tomorrowam said...

Let's hope Jacoby has been horribly misquoted.

There is a massive difference between adapting specifics to suit a different consumer group (those big cup holders) and washing out the brand's distinctiveness.

I wonder what the USP of these "less European feel" cars will be (and what a "more user-friendly steering wheel" is, and why Europeans don't deserve one too)?

An extraordinary moment to do this too - just as Americans faith in Detroit is collapsing.

Audi, BMWs and VW have managed to educate British consumers that German engineering = good car (witness the Citroen C5 ads). Would that have happened if they'd responded to the decline of the British car industry in the early 1980s by promising to make VW's more like Austin Allegros?

Plan Phoenix

Martin Bishop said...

@Alex: Ah! The Austin Allegro. Now that was a car! I actually owned an Austin Allegro Estate (station wagon) for a while which looked just like a funeral hearse. If it had been black instead of a sort of orange cream puff color, I could have made some extra pocketmoney carrying bodies around.

I agree with you. Let's hope this is a case of horrible reporting not horrible marketing.

Julie Adamek Murray said...

Great article, Martin. A real head-scratcher as to why existing equities might get (inadvertently?) washed away.

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