VW’s New COO Thinks it’s Time the Brand Got More Performance Models

Volkswagen has been trying to make its cars appeal more specifically to Americans. That resulted in a new factory in Tennessee and more US-specific cars. And VW’s new COO, Johan de Nysschen, thinks that the next step is performance cars.

“Dealers would like more performance derivatives,” said de Nysschen, speaking to media at the Chicago Auto Show. “I think we are now at the point where I would like to examine […] beyond just the pure financially-driven business case requirements, but also look at this idea of generating economic values through raising brand appeal.”

It’s a little early to say if that means Rs or GTIs, he says, but the prospect of a new North American-built car in the spirit of the GTI, GLI, or R brands, is real. With the Passat, Atlas, and Tiguan being the only cars coming out of North America (that don’t already have one of those badges somewhere in the lineup), the options are limited.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to see an Atlas GTI.

An upcoming performance car “probably ends up on the smaller end of the MQB platform, more compact cars that are agile and have a bit of handling and are lighter in weight,” said de Nysschen. Adding that although the R brand is tempting, “Rs have a higher price point and so it also narrows the volume a bit.”

It may be important, here, to remember that Volkswagen has announced that a new, smaller crossover based on the Tiguan is coming up and that Atlas Cross Sport already has a racing version set to compete at Baja.

Although that’s still speculation at this point, Volkswagen’s Senior Vice President of Marketing & Strategy, Hein Schafer, says that a performance version of an SUV is in the cards.

GTI and Golf R are two brands that have done a great job,” says Schafer. We are “investigating to see if we can get that treatment onto one or two of our SUVs.”

Whatever the performance variant is (or variants are), it will be important to appeal to enthusiasts, says de Nysschen.

Volkswagen is interested in “winning over the hearts and minds of enthusiasts, who are opinion-leaders in their own circle of associates,” he said. “And people who are car nuts tend to be drawn to those more aspirational models. And if you have them in your portfolio, ultimately you raise brand appeal and arguably generate pricing power across your whole portfolio.”

The problem up until now was that although performance models raise the value of a whole portfolio, you need to have that portfolio to sell. Performance cars don’t necessarily make sense on a mode-by-model basis, often selling in numbers that are too small to make business sense on their own. That’s why, so far, almost everything coming out of North America has had more of a focus on mass-appeal than on enthusiast-appeal.

“Each time you want to integrate a new engine to an existing platform: 20 million bucks,” says de Nysschen. “Between crash tests, integrations, the software work, homologation, and, and, and. And so it stands to reason that as the company has shifted to this localization model, that they started with the mainstream cars.”

And unfortunately, importing cars from Europe is also expensive. So simply bringing in more European models won’t really cut it. Whatever the case, the GLI and the GTI may soon not be the only North American made performance variants in the Volkswagen lineup.