Volkswagen aims to tune in to local tastes in latest U.S. turnaround plan

Mon Jan 12, 2015 3:53am EST
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By Andreas Cremer

DETROIT (Reuters) - Volkswagen's (VOWG_p.DE: Quote) latest push to become more than a niche player in the United States builds on a truism the German carmaker has long ignored: if you want to crack the U.S. market, tune in to American customers.

VW is aiming for leadership in global auto markets, backed by timely expansion in China and Latin America as well as its dominance in Europe. Yet it continues to struggle in North America.

It swapped U.S. chiefs a year ago, disappointed by the results of a push into midsize sedans assembled at a $1 billion factory in Tennessee. U.S. sales of VW-branded cars have dropped 16 percent since 2012.

To fight back, the company plans to triple its product range in the fast-growing crossover segment and refresh models more quickly, company sources said.

The campaign will include a five-seat variant of the forthcoming midsize sport-utility vehicle (SUV), a concept version of which will be unveiled on Monday at the Detroit auto show, the sources said.

VW is also stepping up cooperation with dealers and assembling a team of 200 experts in R&D and design at its U.S. plant to ensure vehicles better cater to American tastes.

"It took us long to realise that the U.S. market requires more special attention," a senior manager at VW's German headquarters said on condition of anonymity.

"You have to have an ear on the ground to capitalise on trends and customer desires."   Continued...

The VolksWagen logo is seen on their XL 1 car during the media day at the Paris Mondial de l'Automobile, October 3, 2014. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen