In 2019, there will be only one Golf trim offered without the option of a manual transmission (the SE Wagon, for anyone who's curious). That’s a remarkable achievement in today’s market and shows an unusual dedication to its enthusiasts. But with a recent change in management and a market that’s trending away from VW’s particular brand of enthusiast offering conspire to take the fun out of the VW lineup? Well, according to Scott Keogh, VW North America’s new CEO, the answer is a resounding no.

“I think for the enthusiast, it’s as simple as we want to continue to develop and make and launch and offer these products from the Golf Rs to GTIs to Jetta GLIs,” Keogh told journalists at the LA auto show last week. If you take a “car like the Golf. Yeah, the segment is small. Yes, the segment is difficult. But it's actually by far our most fanatic audience.”

Of course, under his leadership, VW’s North American wing will continue to make cash cow SUVs and crossovers. In fact, Keogh announced that the production version of the Atlas Cross Sport concept will keep that name when it goes into production (and that it will be built in Chattanooga) at the auto show. But it won't just be SUVs.

His strategy involves searching for "market opportunities." That’s to say, making cars that fit into high volume segments that make sense for the brand.
“What you always want to be doing, speaking simplistically, is you want to see where is there a market opportunity? And where do we have brand credibility?” Explained Keogh. “So of course you can say there’s a market opportunity for 7 million dollar supercars in America, but we might not be the best brand to go take advantage of that brand opportunity.”

But it’s not just about chasing after markets that have fat sales. The brand credibility side of the equation will factor into the equation meaningfully.

“I never want to just address market opportunity only, because I think you also have a sense of losing who you are if you’re just addressing market opportunity,” he said. “I think you have to carry yourself into that market opportunity, plus keep yourself on some of your specialized products.”
And Keogh's history with Audi, whose American arm he led before adopting this new position, back up his assertions. One of the few manufacturers whose sedan sales increased over the last number of years, Keogh used Audi USA's influence to help create the RS3 sedan and the RS5 Sportback.

That’s not to say, though, things will stay exactly the same. Keogh admits that the market has shrunk profoundly and that making good money by selling sedans and hatchbacks will be difficult, but he doesn’t see the world quite in quite the black and white terms that manufacturers like Ford (which recently announced that it would stop producing all sedans).

“If I look at the buyers there is still a buyer that is extremely enthused and engaged. A little bit contrarian. Let’s call him an anti-SUVish kind of person,” said Keogh. “And I don’t think that’s going away.”

That’s because no matter what the dominant body style is, there will always be an alternative. Implied within that, though, is the admission that the SUVs days as a dominant body style are in the past.
But we already knew that. And despite the manual’s days a dominant transmission format being behind it, VW still offers the option (pretty much) across the Golf lineup. And that’s not going away, according to Megan Closset, the Golf family’s product manager.

“I don’t see any change in manual transmission for my lineup of cars,” says Closset. “If you look at the Golf family customers: this is an enthusiast customer, they want a European-type vehicle, they like hatchbacks, they’re not looking for an SUV. And we’re still seeing a really healthy take rate on manual transmission across the Golf family, so there’s no reason to cease that.”

And as for enthusiast cars more generally—not just the manual transmission ones—Closset is optimistic again.

“We’re always working on exciting things,” says Closset. “We’re not going to let you guys down.”