Auto Blog

SUNDAY, SEPT. 8, 2013, 9:49 A.M.

Volkswagen shakes a bad case of car flu

Volkswagen summoned journalists to Napa Valley last week, purportedly to introduce its 2014 U.S. product line.
The unveilings included a family of innovative and efficient new engines, a new satellite-based connectivity system called Car-Net and an expanded lineup of “performance-inspired” R-Line cars.
But the event’s real story was a comeback tale, an accounting of a company on the rebound from a nasty spell of car flu. The symptoms: flagging quality, soaring warranty claims, unhappy customers.
As recently as 2007, VW was a “challenged company,” said Marc Trahan, Executive VP of Group Quality. But at about that time, a U.S.-focused initiative called Mach 18 began to bear fruit: 
  • VW has reduced initial quality defects to within a hair’s breadth of the industry standard and should surpass it within the next year. 
  • Since 2009, the number of customer warranty claims has been halved.
  • VW’s JD Power Consumer Satisfaction Index numbers have improved each year for the past five years.
  • Volkswagen has more than doubled its U.S. sales.
  • Customer loyalty is at its highest point in six years.
  • VW tops all non-premium brands in JD Power’s APEAL survey, which measures a brand’s desirability among consumers.
There’s been internal growth, too. Since 2009, VW has added 41 new U.S. dealers. In the global sales battle, the VW Group is closing in on leaders Toyota and General Motors.
But because such growth is unsustainable, the company will hit the pause button on new-product introductions, Trahan said. For the next 24 to 36 months, it will focus on refining its lineup and consolidating its gains. 
In Napa, VW showed its newest gasoline and diesel engines, which are lighter, more powerful and more efficient than their predecessors.
Volkswagen is justifiably proud of its innovative new gasoline engines, which pioneer a breakthrough exhaust-gas management strategy. Integrating the exhaust manifold directly into the cylinder head, VW improves engine output and efficiency and creates an extraordinarily broad and flat power curve.
The new engines are quicker to reach operating temperatures, reducing the friction and wear that accompany lower temps and cutting the time needed to heat the cabin.
We sampled the new engine architecture in a pair of cars, a 1.8-liter, 170-horsepower 2014 Passat and a 210-hp, 2.0-liter 2015 GTI hatchback, which will be available here early next year.
With either engine, peak power comes on at very low engine speeds (1.8L at 1,500 RPM; 2.0L at 1,750) and with virtually no turbo lag. Both engines are extremely responsive, with power available across a broad torque band. 
The 1.8L runs on regular unleaded; the 2.0L needs premium.
The 1.8L will gradually replace the existing 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine in the Jetta, Beetle and Passat. The 2.0L will power performance trims.
Other 2014 updates include: 
  • A retro-themed, limited-edition Beetle GSR.
  • R-Line expanded to include Beetle Coupe and Convertible, CC, Touareg and Tiguan. 
  • Car-Net, a satellite-based in-car connectivity system provides crash notification, roadside assistance, stolen vehicle location assistance; remote vehicle access, onboard and remote diagnostics, enhanced navigation services and more. Available this fall on Beetle, CC, Eos, Jetta, Passat and Tiguan.
VW’s 2014-15 lineup reveals a company enjoying strong health and renewed confidence. Its new products are comfortable, attractive, well equipped and competitively priced. New cabin technology brings them into the modern age.
It’s VW’s renewed focus on quality, though, that speaks loudest for the brand’s prospects. 

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Don Adair
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer.