With the arrival of two new key products this year, Volkswagen dealers in the United States are racing to complete a massive building program.
Exclusive stores are replacing locations that once carried multiple brands. Of the 607 VW dealerships in the United States, 122 are what VW calls Marketplaces. Another 127 are under construction. Volkswagen of America Inc. says that number could grow to 320 by year end.
New stores are part of a two-pronged approach to upgrade VW's U.S. dealer network. While Marketplace stores - with their similar look and feel - address physical improvements, VW has developed mandatory and voluntary brand standards to improve the way dealers do business with customers.
Both are critical for a dealer network that has not kept pace with VW's huge sales growth in the past decade. VW's sales satisfaction scores have been below the industry average in six of the last nine years, according to J.D. Power and Associates of Westlake Village, Calif.
The automaker wants to turn that around, and for good reason: The Touareg SUV arrives in May and the luxury Phaeton sedan follows late this year. VW has never sold an SUV in the lucrative U.S. market. And the Phaeton is meant to challenge the iron grip Lexus, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have had on the U.S. luxury vehicle market for the past 10 years. Both will carry VW's highest sticker prices.
Hot products, such as the Passat, Jetta and New Beetle, are partly to blame for VW's problems. In 1993, VW dealers sold 49,533 cars and light trucks in the United States. Last year, that had grown to 338,125 units.