January 6, 2005
By: Joe Wong
2005 marks the 50th anniversary of VW in America, and thus it was fitting for Volkswagen Chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder to deliver the keynote address to journalists and designers at the 2005 Los Angeles Auto Show. Dr. Pischetsrieder’s vision for VW is to remain in a constant state of re-invention, while being certain not to forget the roots of the company.
He specifically mentioned that they would continue to build VW’s brand recognition by offering products that were the best in quality, safety, environmental friendliness and ones that will meet the needs of “the people.” Clearly different people have different needs, meaning that products are required to address different market segments and price points, all the while providing good value for money. At the same time, Pischetsrieder stated that VW would never sacrifice standard safety features on their products in order to meet a lower price points. While not specifically called out, he insinuated that this tactic is used by competitors.
Being as the keynote was held in environmentally-conscious California, there was a healthy segment of the address around diesel and other alternative fuel choices. Not surprisingly, between 40-50% of all VW’s sold in Europe are diesel powered while the numbers in the US are miniscule. Pischetsrieder claimed that VW is the world-wide leader in diesel powered vehicles and that their current and future diesel technologies address ongoing environmental and vehicle performance concerns.
VW also has ongoing research and development initiatives in other alternative fuel technologies. Dr. Pischetsrieder commented that hydrogen shows a lot of potential, however that the current infrastructure (fueling stations, transportation of hydrogen, etc.) is a key issue that would continue to hinder short-term viability.
When asked specifically about hybrids, Pischetsrieder said that he feels that there are some good niche applications (such as stop-and-go city commuting where braking energy can be effectively harnessed to recharge battery packs). He commented that this technology does not perform well on long trips, which is a problem. VW apparently does have some hybrid R&D on the go, but Pischetsrieder was hesitant to provide many details. He did state, however, that for a hybrid application the combination of diesel and electric makes the most sense vs. gas/electric scenarios.
Pischetsrieder was actually quite optimistic about natural gas and synthetic fuels or blends – “bio-diesel” or “sun fuel” as he refers to them. VW is currently involved in a partnership with a U.S. based food producer to blend soybean extracts with 10% diesel; weird science to be sure! He claims that the primary advantage is that current engines could run this fuel without a costly conversion. He also feels that the natural gas that is burnt off in refineries is a waste and should be captured for use. Remember the natural gas conversion craze a decade or so ago?
In any event it was made clear that VW’s main environmental weapon would be diesel, where in Germany they have successfully reduced CO2 emissions by 25%.
On the topic of safety innovation, Dr. Pischetsrieder reiterated that VW has made significant strides over the years that we all tend to take for granted in today’s cars.
Apart from the existing, ABS, air-bag and crash intrusion technologies, he indicated that ESP and active lighting is a key focus and will be the next “standard” safety features. On the horizon Pischetsrieder mentioned developments in distance control (from the car ahead) to allow the car to stop by itself in stop-and-go driving conditions if the driving fails to stop. He also talked about driver assistance features utilizing cameras and sensors to measure driving style in an effort to determine whether the driver is displaying signs of fatigue or erratic driving behavior. The system would then trigger some sort of alarm to wake you up
On a closing note, Pischetsrieder indicated that there is now much better cooperation between the auto manufacturers and fuel producers and a concerted effort in improving safety standards. His dream is to build products whereby passengers would suffer absolutely no catastrophic effects as the result of a collision or other accident.
2005 VW Jetta World Debut
2005 marks the 25th anniversary of the Jetta, giving VW ample reason to do something special with the model. The Jetta represents their best selling vehicle in the U.S. – over 2.2 million have been sold since its debut. The all-new, made in Mexico Jetta boasts the following:
- Is larger and more sleek than its predecessor
- Improved body rigidity/safety
- Improved handling (rear independent multi-link suspension)
- New, more powerful engines with the base offering the new 5-cylinder 2.5-liter (170 ft/lbs torque) developed especially for North America
- 6-speed automatic transmission
- Electro-mechanical steering
- Class leading interior
- More of a “driver’s” car
I won’t cover all the speeds and feeds but the new Jetta is definitely a vast improvement over its predecessor, immediately coming across in person as far more modern and stylish. The larger size and luxury accoutrements now push it well into Audi A4 territory. Clearly the original premium sub-compact target market has expanded into the entry-level luxury mid-size sedan segment. VW plans to offer more engine options and DSG down the road.
I gave the Jetta a quick once over and I was impressed overall with the improvements. However I will contend that the corporate trapezoidal front grill treatment has been carried over from Audi unnecessarily. Love it or hate it, for an untrained eye it’s becoming increasingly difficult to tell a VW from an Audi, at least from the front. This in my mind presents an ongoing positioning issue for VW and Audi.