Volkswagen hasn’t had the most loveable reputation lately. Although it’s not the only brand that got caught out in the Dieselgate emissions scandal, its name was the first and one of the most high-profile, in terms of the sentencing of senior executives. Then there was the whole weird business a few months ago where it decided to re-up its credentials by, err, lying in a weird April Fool’s joke that seemed to get out of control.
Sales have not gone well recently. VW’s current two percent share in the U.S. market isn’t the lowest it’s ever been (it was around one percent for a lot of the ’80s) but it’s far from the brand’s heyday. Despite the overall VW Group gaining a renaissance with Taycans and E-Trons, the eponymous brand remains fairly unloved. Announced yesterday, its New Auto strategy is going to try and turn that around with an “emotional” lead into the U.S. market with the ID Buzz. Yes, it is really happening.
Herbert Diess, chairman of the board for the whole VW Group, opened the New Auto presentation with a summary of where the conglomerate is taking its brands. The emphasis is on autonomy, with buzzy phrases like synergizing mechatronics to find manufacturing efficiencies. But something he said early on immediately stood out.
In all the promise of level 4 autonomy by 2026 and other things that feel a bit intangible, there was something extremely clear: Volkswagen’s new strategy in the U.S. won’t be led by the ID.4, its relatively pedestrian, serviceable crossover.
No, the point is to try and make the U.S. love Volkswagen again. And Diess says there’s one very obvious vehicle to do that: the converted VW campervan, reimagined, that is the ID Buzz. Unveiled as a concept in 2017, it’s never appeared on the market but VW did confirm, last year, that it will arrive hopefully by 2022.
The Drive asked Diess about it in a follow-up Q&A session after the strategy announcement. Why was VW leading with such a niche vehicle, when it’s been E-Trons and Taycans that have caught the U.S. market?
He said it’s about looking to be loved, again. “It’s a very emotional moment for me because I was pushing, when I still was in charge of the Volkswagen brand, very strongly for that product.
“I think, in the electrified world, we need emotional products. And the most iconic product we have in our entire product range is probably the Volkswagen bus.”
Diess’ plan is to evoke nostalgia and genuine affection via something only VW can offer, unlike new-one-every-week electric SUVs. “Americans really tied [the VW bus] to the lifestyle and experience and memories of the ’70s. It really adds something to the brand which competitors don’t have and there are still so many memories in the United States.”
“It’s really a pity that we lost the United States as a core market,” Diess said, reflecting on VW’s current position as a niche brand. Previously, in its early days of coming to the U.S., it had been the largest foreign automaker.
“Basically [there was] decline from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and we couldn’t regain momentum until now. Now we have a historic chance,” Diess continued.
He believes the electric future is how to re-romanticize VW in the States. “I think this electrification, we can bring back really a specific edge to the Volkswagen brand, which could come close to American buyers hearts and probably their memories.
“We have, I think, a really exciting lineup for the United States to come. ID.4 Is hitting the road and received nicely but an ID Buzz, we have that experience in Pebble Beach.”
In 2017, VW got Magnus Walker to take a prototype ID Buzz out on the road, which Diess said caused “really an uproar” in U.S. interest.
The relaunch, for 2022, will be what VW hope captures back some trust—and joy—in its brand.
“I think the design will come very close to what people would expect from a remake of an ID Buzz. It will come with some very nice features as well, so very clean design,” Diess reassured, emphasizing that despite the delay, this is really happening now. “I think it can help and I can promise it will come to the United States, I hope soon.
“It will be one part of a new lineup of excitement which will include more electric cars, which we are currently working on.”
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