Is Atlas-Clone Tiguan A Chance For Volkswagen To Maintain U.S. Control?
At Torque News, we’ve asked this question before, and we’ll ask it again, right now: What in the name of Filo Q. Mindbender is Volkswagen doing? Okay, so we’ve dressed up the question a bit, but, nonetheless, it stands.
Last year, about this time, Volkswagen was in the process of a daily pillory as with each dawn there seemed to be a new nasty development in the emissions cheating scandal. By this time, though, we knew the essential outlines of the scandal. For instance, it was known that Martin Winterkorn, former chief exec, might have been informed of the scandal before it became public. We also knew that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had slapped a sales hold on any unsold turbodiesel vehicles that were still on dealer lots, creating a drag on dealer profits. We also had heard that 3.0-liter V-6 vehicles, not just the 2.0-liter four-cylinder mills, were included in the scandal. And, we knew that the cheating device was just a software routine that turned the pollution control system on and off so that the turbodiesels appeared to be passing emissions testing for nitrous oxide, a major and nasty part of diesel emissions. And, we knew that Michael Horn, the popular president of VW of the U.S., was likely to be on the chopping block and dealers weren’t happy.
VW Apologizes For Dieselgate
That’s not all. Volkswagen had launched its “We’re sorry! We didn’t mean it! We hope everyone, especially our customers will forgive us!” campaign. The automaker has asked for forgiveness from everyone, including the Federation, Kirk, Spock, Picard, Number One, Counselor Troy, the Romulans and the Klingons, and probably several hundred other entities that we’ve not even thought about.
Most importantly, though, the automaker apologized to its dealer body – already upset by the handling of Horn and sales holds -- and promised to do better. Atlas was part of that pledge. Indeed, Wolfsburg even said it had learned its lesson and that, instead of foisting marketing decisions on the U.S. division, that it would let North America have its head and create its marketing campaigns, even to the point of naming vehicles. Dealers were ecstatic.
Naming vehicles is, apparently, a source of pride and contention for Volkswagen. Throughout its history, Wolfsburg has carefully controlled the names of vehicles and vehicle lines. For instance, vehicles with names starting with G are hatchbacks, and have the name Golf, while compact crossovers start with the letter T or Tiguan.
For Volkswagen to have agreed to let the U.S. subsidiary name models is remarkable. At the time this decision was announced many skeptics didn't believe it would happen. For a bit, time seemed to have proven the skeptics wrong as Volkswagen seemed to proudly announce that, after holding marketing clinics where panels rated new-car names for their impact, VW had agreed to the name Atlas for a three-row, large crossover that was aimed specifically at the American market in 2018. It was also to be a U.S.-only vehicle.
The Atlas was promised to VW of America (VWoA), a move that was applauded by dealers and other observers in the auto world, including the editors at Torque News. Everything looked totally legit, too. The usual round of press events, including a huge sendoff bash announcing the Atlas to the world and its special place in the VW hierarchy as the only vehicle, developed, named and marketed by a subsidiary. VW touted the Atlas as a vehicle that aimed at the heart of the American market. And, the automaker announced that since American marketers understood the U.S. market better than any Wolfsburg specialist VWoA specialists would shape its future.
Atlas Marketers Get To Work
Once the San Diego launch festivities ended, VWoA marketers went to work on sales strategies for the three-row crossover. Everything seemed set for the future. VWoA apparently expected Atlas to be the first of an exclusive set of models, designed for and by Americans. All was well as dealers waited for the buildout to begin in Chattanooga. The manufacturing team started filling the pipeline a couple of weeks ago, again to huge fanfares, speeches, dignitaries and the whole shooting match.
To some, it all seemed too good to be true; maybe it has been too good. Wolfsburg looked to be easing the reins, but was it really easing them or was it practicing another form of deceit?
We doubt that Volkswagen looks at it that way. However, we are not privy to the private water-cooler and coffee-fueled conversations that may be happening all over Wolfsburg, VW's world headquarters. However, knowing VW as we do, though we had hoped Wolfsburg had promised to ease up on the reins, we also knew that if might never let go of what it perceives as its prerogatives.
A couple of colliding coincidences seem to prove that VW's words weren't worth the paper they weren't printed on, either. First, the North America International Auto Show in Detroit was about to occur. Apparently, VW thought it might be a good place to drop its bomb shell. And, drop, the automaker did. While VWoA, which had formally introduced the Atlas with its attendant fanfare weeks ago, was limited to announcing a dress-up version of the Atlas, VW was able to use NAIAS gut-punched VWoA with a new, larger Tiguan.
Wolfsburg was able to grab every news cycle this week with its new three-row crossover, leaving VWoA, way out on a limb with nothing for cover. The parent automaker decided to add 10 inches to the wheelbase, giving Tiguan the same specs as the Atlas. Suddenly, Wolfsburg pulled the rug out from under VWoA. Wolfsburg gave lip service to what seemed implicit in its promise that Atlas would have the U.S. market to itself. Now, it turns out, VW has decided to show it is still the big dog in the house with an Atlas clone named Tiguan.