Embattled German auto giant Volkswagen has vowed to reconquer the hearts of American car consumers as it struggles to shift focus away from the still-unresolved emissions cheating scandal.
“We are determined to reignite America’s love for Volkswagen,” Herbert Diess, chairman of the Volkswagen brand, said on the opening day of the Detroit auto show.
Volkswagen’s uncertain journey back into the good graces of US auto enthusiasts has begun with a stream of apologies and is now moving to announcements of fresh investments on American soil and new products aimed at the market.
Diess recalled the 1960s and 1970s when “iconic cars like the Microbus and the Beetle were part of American culture” and “millions of Americans loved our brand.”
Vehicles bearing the Volkswagen badge once captured seven percent of the American car market before sales plummeted and hit rock bottom in the 1990s.
In recent years, the German automaker had been counting on a major expansion in the United States to become the world’s largest carmaker ahead of Toyota, a goal now shelved after the emissions scandal plunged the company into deep crisis.
However, despite a major product onslaught, the group’s market share remains under four percent in the United States.
The Wolfsburg-based group admitted in September to installing emissions-cheating software in around 11 million diesel cars of VW, Audi and other brands worldwide, including nearly 600,000 vehicles sold in America between 2009 and 2015.
The so-called defeat devices turn on pollution controls when the cars are undergoing testing, and off when they are back on the road, allowing them to spew out illegal amounts of toxic nitrogen oxides.
The US government sued Volkswagen for intentionally violating clean-air laws and accused the German carmaker of obstructing the investigation.
Even before the scandal tainted Volkswagen’s reputation and forced the company to suspend the sale of its diesel cars, the VW brand had been struggling in America with an aging model lineup while competitors posted record sales.
“Winning back trust also means improving our strategy here in the United States,” Diess said before announcing plans to beef up VW’s offerings of sport-utility vehicles popular with American consumers.
Volkswagen is set to invest a further USD 900 million at its Chattanooga, Tennessee factory to build a new mid-sized sport utility vehicle that is expected to roll of the assembly line by the end of this year.
Yesterday, the company also unveiled a plug-in hybrid version of the top-selling Tiguan SUV.
“By the end of the decade, we will be offering at least one SUV in every major segment,” Diess said.