As the CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, I’m often asked about the future of the brand in the United States, and where we go from here. To explain that properly, I need to talk about how we began.
The first importer for Volkswagen arrived in the United States in 1949. To be honest, things did not go well. The two Volkswagen Beetle models he brought with him were small and plain – the exact opposite of what American car buyers wanted. Not only was he unable to find dealers willing to take a chance on the Beetle, he ended up selling one car simply to cover his $800 hotel bill.
Volkswagen kept trying, and the next year, Americans bought about 150 Beetles. The year after, sales more than doubled. In 1953, Volkswagen launched its first two American sales offices in New York and San Francisco. The Beetle quickly established itself as the car for people who think differently. Within a decade, the Beetle, the Microbus and Volkswagen itself had become a beloved part of American culture.
But the Beetle did not succeed on its unique looks alone. The cars Americans bought were upgraded to fit their tastes, with different interior and exterior choices than those on standard European models. Volkswagen knew it had to help Americans adjust to owning a foreign car, in most cases their first, so it built a network of dealers, trained their mechanics and supplied repair parts so that customers could rest easier.
Today, we are more committed than ever to making our vehicles and our processes meet American needs — and growing our business to continue supporting thousands of jobs across the country.
Our choices made here will determine our success here
To power that commitment, Volkswagen has reorganized its business into a new unit, the North American Region, I oversee an executive team responsible for all business units like development, engineering, purchasing, production, sales and marketing across the United States, Canada and Mexico. This structure marks an important culture shift for Volkswagen, bringing Volkswagen’s engineering, decision-making and leadership closer to our dealers and the customers we serve here.
Now, we can act more quickly to respond to dealer input and to meet the customer and market demands unique to the region. We have established a new management board and new structure to create a more entrepreneurial mindset for steering products and services. Going forward, we will take the lead in the development of core U.S. products.
Want proof? Look no further than the new Volkswagen Atlas. From the beginning, the Atlas has been tailored to meet the desires of U.S. customers, from the selection of a name chosen just for this market, to its versatility and roominess, design, fit and finish. Even the air conditioning has been designed to act with the force Americans prefer – all at a price set to be competitive on American soil.
Our commitments over the past six decades have made Volkswagen Group of America a major American employer. We directly employ more than 20,000 team members, and have a strong network of nearly 1,000 Volkswagen dealerships within the North American region.1
Going forward, the Volkswagen Group as a whole has committed to investing more than $7 billion in North America between 2015 through 2019. This includes a $900 million investment to expand our plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, enabling us to launch production of the Atlas SUV alongside the Passat. Next to that plant sits our Engineering and Planning Center, tasked with getting new products to market faster, more efficiently and designed to meet American needs.
Whether it’s autonomous driving or future electric vehicles, Volkswagen will continue to evolve to respond to American needs – just as we did with the first Beetle models. With the North American Region leadership at the wheel, our choices made here will determine our success here.
Volkswagen has been a part of American culture for more than 60 years. Our commitments clearly demonstrate we are here to stay for decades to come.