GENEVA - Volkswagen's new leader expects to grow in America by playing in the half of the market that it has missed so far: light trucks.
Volkswagen AG Chairman-designate Bernd Pischetsrieder suggested last week that the VW Microbus concept has a good chance of getting approval as a mostly American-oriented product. It would join the VW Touareg sport-utility, due in mid- to late 2003, as a serious light-truck competitor in America.
Pischetsrieder said here the company will decide in June whether to put the Microbus into production. The round-nosed minivan, unveiled as a concept at the 2001 Detroit auto show, could be in dealerships within two years after approval.
Pischetsrieder said VW is considering making the vehicle in two sizes: a big one for America and a narrower, smaller version for Europe and elsewhere. Gerd Klauss, president of Volkswagen of America Inc., said he thinks America would take as much as two-thirds of production.
Pischetsrieder, who takes over for the retiring Ferdinand Piech next month, said VW will not produce a pickup truck. VW wants to maintain a more exclusive brand image of being a driver's car, reflecting the cliche of "a poor man's BMW," Pischetsrieder said.
VW sales have soared from 49,533 in 1993 to 355,648 last year. While the U.S. market shifts to light trucks, VW remains tied to passenger cars. Last year, VW's sole light truck, the ungainly EuroVan, accounted for just 1.6 percent of VW's U.S. sales.