Planning the all-new 2019 Jetta GLI

Product planning is a process filled with complexity and nuance. Daniel Shapiro, Product Manager for the Volkswagen Jetta, helps explain how he and his team used their expertise to help revamp the GLI.

When it comes to creating a new vehicle or updating an existing model, there are lots of decisions to make. For example: Should the side skirts be lowered — and by how much? How should the controls of an ambient lighting system work?  Those are just two of the thousands of decisions, big and small, represented in the all-new 2019 Jetta GLI and ones that filled the work day of product planners such as Daniel Shapiro, a key member of the vehicle’s planning team.

When making those decisions, says Shapiro, ever-present on a product planner’s mind is how it will affect the daily driving lives of Volkswagen owners, as well as its tie in to the history and heritage of each model. The product planning team’s goals are always multilevel: The vehicle should be relevant, affordable, and ultimately true to its ethos.

To get to a finished vehicle like the all-new GLI, Shapiro and the product planning team drew on diverse backgrounds and varied insights and expertise. Here’s a peek into the product planning world.

A product planner’s career path: anything but traditional

You might assume that a product planner takes a traditional career path — say, from industrial design to the factory floor. Not so, says Shapiro, and his own resume is an example: He zig-zagged from degrees in mechanical engineering to a stint in art school to an MBA.

Regardless of jobs and educational experience, says Shapiro, product planning team members may have diverse backgrounds including sales, marketing, software development, linguistics, consulting, finance, or accounting. As a result, product planners strive to balance market, technological, and automotive challenges and demonstrate the ability to deep dive into core areas of experience: project management, data analysis, consumer behavior, and basic finance.

Product planning isn’t a straight line

The GLI you see today? It’s gone through lots of twists and turns, says Shapiro. The process has to adapt to changes in the market and to additional insights into customers’ wants and needs. As the process moves forward, says Shapiro, they pass through a variety of milestones, ranging in length from a few months to a year. They include everything from establishing a mission, creating a concept, finalizing a design, and beginning production.

The product planning process on the GLI

Product planners at Volkswagen of America juggle a number of different tasks and goals on any given day and in any given year while working on a project such as the all-new GLI. In general, new generations of a vehicle are planned on five-year cycles. That meant Shapiro worked on both the 2016 and 2019 models of the GLI — at the same time.

Key individuals from various departments formed the core team that worked on the 2019 GLI. This included colleagues in:

  • Design
  • Program management
  • Finance
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Engineering
  • Procurement
  • Manufacturing

As they began work on the 2019 GLI, Shapiro and the team relied on several different inputs. They looked at the previous generation, of course, and also competitor models, sales performance metrics, purchase price data, customer demographics, and societal trends.

To take into account both the vehicle’s heritage and the current market, the product planning team took several things into account. First, they were mindful of what the core GLI fans love about the vehicle — its performance. They also obtained feedback from small groups of customers and dealers to evaluate performance and feature expectations for consumers of today. The versatile underpinnings of the MQB architecture on the GLI gave the team plenty of leeway to adapt as the vehicle developed and evolved.

The end result of the product planning process

Years after they began sketching and meeting and listening to input about the next GLI, the product planning team at VW debuted the results of their efforts at the Chicago Auto Show in February. One of the biggest changes was the integration of the Volkswagen MQB architecture in the GLI.

The GLI exhibits a deft balance of familiar and new, updated for today’s drivers: the same powertrain and brakes on the Golf GTI. Standard equipment includes a VAQ limited slip electro-hydraulic differential that is electronically controlled and variable-ratio steering system. The option of DCC® adaptive chassis control. And there are more Driver Assistance features — a direct result of customer input — with Blind Spot Monitor, Forward Collision Warning with Autonomous Emergency Braking, and Rear Cross Traffic Alert standard.1 All these changes tie directly to the listening the product planning team did and to their desire to remain true to the vehicle and to VW.