Q&A: 'VW needs highly emotional models'

Design engineering boss Wilfried Bockelmann on Volkswagen model strategy and contributions to the ForMotion austerity program

Le Castellet, France. At the launch of the new Golf GTI, VW design engineering boss Wilfried Bockelmann spoke to Automobilwoche's Wolfgang Eschment about model strategies and cost-saving plans.

Bockelmann, 62, is a member of the Volkswagen board of directors and responsible for technical engineering. Previously he was chief executive and head of engineering at Skoda.

Does the new Golf GTI represent a fresh start at VW?

Yes, the GTI is an important step in that direction. VW needs highly emotional models. The times when one was different just because of owning a car are over once and for all. Individuality is in. Customers want to drive something special nowadays.

And what is the next step?

There will definitely be a very sporty R32 version again. The Golf Plus [a high-roof version due in February] will also be more emotional than a common Golf. It goes in the direction of crossover cars. We already have a very emotional car in our range, the Touareg.

Are you planning a model below the Fox?

The way we will position the Fox is relative to the Polo: it will be our bottom-of-the-line model. It will be significantly cheaper. A vehicle below that, a much smaller one, would not be sellable in many countries around the world. People want a cheap car but not a small one. We need a vehicle for a one-car family. And that family wants space.

So no car positioned below the Fox?

Yes, I believe so.

But in regard to the price there will be one, no?

One needs to consider carefully if one wants to take the step that Renault took with the Dacia Logan. Can the VW brand, which wants to offer a premium model in each category, offer a low cost car at least in some regions around the world -- and therefore call its philosophy into question?

What is your personal opinion on this?

We have to ask ourselves whether we want to give up our claim to sell premium cars in certain markets in case it has a backlash effect on vehicles such as the Touareg and Phaeton. I believe we cannot do that. At least not in the triad markets: Japan, US and Europe. Such cars would ruin our reputation.

In other markets would you need partners?

In other markets this would be possible with a local partner. In countries where mobility is just at the beginning and where the VW brand name is not yet known, we could use such cars to enter the market -- at least for a certain period.

Is this the reason for ties with Indonesian automaker Proton?

Proton definitely has potential. But we are still negotiating the details of this partnership. It is true that economically the ASEAN region is most interesting and that the VW Group still has insufficient representation there.

Is the thought of building a high-quality but cheap car tempting?

It is generally a challenge to build a highly intelligent car at a reasonable price. But it should not be designed by the same people that built the Phaeton -- that would result in a different kind of pricing.

What will happen to the C1 model that would have filled the gap between the Passat and Phaeton?

It has been postponed to 2010.

Could an upgraded Passat take over its role?

No, the C1 will be a bigger vehicle built on a larger platform. It should forge a link between the Passat and Touareg on one hand and Passat and Phaeton on the other.

Do you have the platform of the future Sharan in mind?

Yes.

Is there already a concept for a successor to the Phaeton? There have been rumors that VW favors a kind of crossover model.

It is no secret that D-segment customers are conservative and do not like to change models. That means it was difficult to launch another notchback car. Therefore it is good to choose a different body shape for the future Phaeton. Then all those people interested in crossover cars could be potential customers.

Has it been decided if the Dresden plant, which is running below capacity, will soon produce Bentley sedans?

No. But if the demand for the new Bentley sedan continues to rise, and I believe it will, the Bentley production will reach its capacity limits. Then we would need to seriously consider this option, as the Dresden plant is not sufficiently utilized. We are probably just below 50 percent at the moment.

What is the current situation regarding the VW Microbus project?

This car will be built. Its front design will be similar to the Microbus concept car. But it will also use a lot of T5 modules because a separate platform for the Microbus would not be cost-efficient. That is why the concept will be very close to that of the T5.

When will the car be ready? 2007?

It is more likely to be 2008.

What is the VW design engineering sector's contribution to the "ForMotion" austerity plan?

We are one of the major driving forces. The optimization of production costs is our responsibility. We have to produce more cost-efficiently without any disadvantages for customers. We are stepping up our efforts and have employed additional people to do so. The number of projects has increased tenfold.

How much are we talking about when speaking of the general reduction of engineering costs?

About 10 percent. It is our aim to become correspondingly more efficient with each new model series or with large-scale projects such tougher exhaust emission regulations.

Will you also be pushing your model strategy?

Yes. We currently have 31 module families and approximately 130 modules in our program. The number of modules will remain the same but we will be using them more efficiently in an increasing number of cars. It is our aim to use the modules across the whole range in all our model series. The new Passat, for example, will be using lots of modules of the current Golf.

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