Through the end of October, Volkswagen of America’s efforts to gain a 5 percent share of the country’s new vehicle market (by 2020) continued apace, with sales up 5 percent over the same period a year earlier. This sales bump has two crossovers to thank, not cars.
No, definitely not cars.
Still, VW CEO Herbert Diess, when questioned about the brand’s slowly deflating car lineup, doesn’t believe the future involves a light truck-only landscape. To him, the limitations of existing battery technology means future buyers won’t decrease their horizons just for the sake of cargo space. The sedan, Diess claims, is probably not in danger.
Year to date, VW passenger car sales fell a significant 31 percent, with the brand’s overall volume helped by a 170 percent increase in crossover purchases. The three-row Atlas, which went on sale in May of 2017, climbed 29 percent, year over year, in October, while the enlarged Tiguan posted an 84 percent YoY gain. A departing Tiguan Limited added a handful of sales to the tally.
Meanwhile, the Golf, Jetta, and Passat all trended downwards as the low-volume Beetle (now sentenced to death) stayed flat. The only monthly bright spots for VW cars? That’s reserved for the next-gen 2019 Jetta sedan, which saw a 10 percent year-over-year increase last month, and the Golf R, which rose 365 percent (to 144 vehicles).
Speaking to Automotive News ahead of the release of the larger, semi-luxury Arteon sedan, Diess said he questions the sentiment that sedans have no place in our automotive future.
“Should we give up on sedans? Some say that, but I don’t think so,” Diess said, pointing to China as something of a canary in a coal mine for the segment.
“In China, for instance, they’ve been shifting toward SUVs for the last 10 years, and incredibly fast for the last five years. Their SUV share now is as high as it is in the United States. It’s an incredible shift. But in the past five months, SUVs have stagnated and sedans are coming back.”
Why the shift? Electrification â€” a trend taking hold far quicker in China and Europe than the U.S. and Canada. While the EV market here doesn’t have the same level support from governments (here, “support” means as much the penalization of internal combustion vehicle purchases as state subsidies for EVs), battery electric vehicles are indeed making headway. Longer-range battery packs will do that. However, those packs are better at moving vehicles with less mass longer distances.
Physics and cost are, for now, on the side of small cars, Diess said, adding, “the big SUVs have a disadvantage because of their relatively high fuel consumption, which would require huge batteries. So to make big SUVs viable in the electric world is complicated. So if you have 50 km or 50 miles more range on a sedan, you might consider a sedan again.”