Volkswagen group Chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder has sent a group of specialists to the US to help fix the German brand's problems in the world's biggest auto market.
The team - which is named Moonraker after a 1955 Ian Fleming James Bond spy book - is traveling the US in search of marketing insights. Moonraker is the pet project of Pischetsrieder, who lamented that VW's $1.29 billion (E1.04billion) loss in North America last year was unacceptable. The group is headed by Stefan Liske, director of group product strategy and former head of BMW's X3 SUV project.
The team's task over the next 13 months is to determine VW's vehicle needs in the US, as well as to understand this market. Moonraker consists of 22 German members and a single American. The group arrived in the US in April.
VW says the goal of the group is "to draw up a vehicle and business concept for the American market that would boost volume, earnings and brand reputation"
The longer-term results could change the way VW develops vehicles. VW says team members must "detect forthcoming trends, experience the customer's demands directly and draw conclusions from them as to the direction project development must take"
Hunt is mentor One of the group's mentors is Len Hunt, who heads Volkswagen of America. Hunt assigned one of his sales and marketing specialists to the group. According to VW, team members' initial comments show Moonraker is quickly discovering that the VW brand doesn't have the appeal in America that it has in Europe.Moonraker's main goal, Hunt says, is to build a cadre of key employees in Germany who understand the US market. That will complement VW brand boss Wolfgang Bernhard's experience as chief operating officer of the Chrysler group.
"They'll go back really, really understanding the market,"Hunt says.
The trick, he adds, is to preserve VW's European character, which customers like, while addressing US-specific needs.
In VW's internal corporate German publication Autogramm, one team member says he didn't realize how badly VW is doing in the US until he arrived here.
"I didn't discover the real urgency of the situation until we experienced the market firsthand once we got here and talked to Volkswagen dealers,"says Arne Harms, from the quality assurance department. "We are trying to sell products developed for the European market on the American market"
Other carmakers are meeting US customer demands better than VW - especially since they are developing unique vehicles, says Harm. Mathias Grosser, who works in VW's individualization department, says he was amazed that "we still don't really cater to the customer's wishes in America - just as the Japanese didn't really cater to our tastes 30 years ago"
Understanding VW's image
Moonraker is still addressing the basics - especially finding out what customer groups VW must target in the future and what vehicle concept "suits the North American market so that we can maximize our market effect"
To understand the VW image, Moonraker already has talked with people in 24 US cities. Team members have learned that "Volkswagen is different from the mainstream,"and that cars like the Jetta are viewed as "young and sexy."The Moonraker team isn't just talking to dealers and customers. It's looking at successful companies such as Apple, Nike, Starbucks and 3M. The team is based near Malibu, California, and is traveling through US and making extended stays in various locations.