Q&A: VW will focus on small cars, says Flandorfer

Wolfsburg, Germany. Automobilwoche editor Franz Rother and managing editor Wolfgang Eschment spoke to VW brand director Georg Flandorfer during the presentation of the new VW Fox, amid the debate about micro-dust pollution in German towns and the industry's role in the controversy.

How has the 2005 car year been so far?

March was a very bad month for German car manufacturers. The number of cars sold in Germany was significantly lower than the previous year. Unfortunately this is no isolated case. The number of new registrations is clearly below 2004 in all of Europe.

How did VW do?

During the first quarter [our sales were] higher than last year. We can be happy with that, especially since the Passat and the Polo are in the middle of a model change and the Golf Plus was only launched in February. Unit sales will probably increase significantly in the third quarter.

How will the micro-dust debate affect car sales in Germany?

We have to take this subject seriously. Dealers tell me of customers' strong interest in obtaining soot particle filters for retrofitting. It is on retrofitting solutions that we should be focusing first. This makes the most sense for the environment. VW will be able to offer such solutions starting in the autumn. Beyond that we will expand our range of diesel cars that have the option of being fitted with a filter.

Does this also apply to the new Fox?

An integrated filter for this car will be available by 2006. But a retrofitting solution might already be available before that.

How much will this retrofitting solution cost the customer?

It will definitely not be free of charge. We will have a close look at each model and will charge a fair price. I think that we learnt a lot during the past six months regarding pricing. Prices remained stable even though both Passat and Polo have more value than their predecessors. I am proud of that.

What are the current delivery periods for VW vehicles with soot particle filters? Are the cars really available?

The cars that are already included in the price list are available within the usual delivery period.

German car manufacturers plan to increase their diesel offensive in the USA. Are you not worried that the current debate in Germany will ruin this strategy?

This really is a problem. We wanted to make diesel vehicles socially acceptable in the USA. And now there is a headwind in our domestic market. I fear that the debate over micro-dust pollution will have an effect on US customers.

The new VW Fox is available from 8,950 euros. Is this a new price strategy?

Not a new price but a new small-car strategy. We plan to focus more on the small car segment again with the Fox and the Polo. We believe we will have significant growth within this segment here in Europe within the next two to three years. We plan to defend our leadership in Germany and, if possible, even strengthen it.

Will VW in future have bottom-of-the-range models with reduced equipment again?

I hope that we no longer need to do that. Our prices are fair and we want to offer adequate cars. VW will not do low-cost cars but vehicles that offer value for money.

What are your hopes for the Fox?

I hope that we will attract first-time buyers again with this model. We did that in the past with the economy Beetle. The clientele is big enough. We are not giving any absolute figures.

Will the Fox be available throughout Europe?

In almost all countries. In four or five east European countries, it would not pay due to currency or volume reasons.

How did the Passat launch go?

The order situation in Germany is absolutely outstanding. It was almost a two-digit figure above the previous year in the first three months. In the European market we still need to wait a little as the market launch will take place in a few days. Besides, the Variant will not be launched before autumn. And this model is more than half of the volume.

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