Martin Winterkorn faced widespread skepticism when he said Volkswagen Group would sell 10 million cars a year by 2018, making it the world's largest automaker. Now the CEO says the company will reach its volume target earlier than planned. He admits that slow take-up of VW Group's forthcoming alternative-powertrain vehicles could undermine his plan, but he is confident that the automaker's plug-in hybrids, electric cars and hybrids will be winners with customers.
He talked about VW Group's future with Automobilwoche Editor Guido Reinking and Reporter Henning Krogh. Automobilwoche is a sister publication of Automotive News Europe.
Many observers expect VW Group to reach the goals in Strategy 2018 -- including No. 1 in global sales -- earlier than at the end of five years. Do you share that optimistic assessment?
I share it with regard to volumes, that is, the 10 million vehicles a year. But we have other strategic goals: We also want to be the leading automaker ecologically. On profitability, we have resolved to achieve a profit margin of more than 8 percent on an ongoing basis. We have to continue to work on customer satisfaction, and we will.
Why don't you adjust some of the goals of the Strategy 2018 plan?
That comes up again and again. My reply is this: We are well advised to keep our attention and full concentration on achieving our range of goals. And if we have to adjust our goals at one point or another, then we will do that.
What obstacles could keep you from reaching your Strategy 2018 goals?
One stumbling block would be that the new technologies do not catch on with customers, for example, if the wide range of alternative drives were not accepted by drivers. But I don't believe that will happen. Plug-in hybrids are, in fact, examples of vehicles that can be driven electrically and conventionally and that combine efficiency and suitability for everyday use, especially with regard to range.
But environmental technologies require substantial investment, right?
That's right. But even here the money invested has to pay off in the long-term. If the customer can buy a Golf that only consumes 3.3 liters of fuel per 100km, then he is usually inclined to spend more than he would for a traditional gasoline-powered vehicle.
That was not the case some years ago for the Three-Liter Lupo. It was too expensive. Is a similar fate looming for VW and its XL1, whose development likely cost a huge sum?
Back then, the Three-Liter Lupo was way ahead of its time. Today, there is a completely different awareness of efficiency and resource conservation.
When it comes to the XL1, the value of such a technological beacon is far greater than the value of the financial resources that have flowed into the project. Only those who plumb the limits of the technologically possible today will be competitive tomorrow. The XL1 one-liter car is the recipient of the VW Group's concentrated expertise in powertrains, electronics, battery technology, lightweight construction and aerodynamics.
And the decisive factor is that this expertise does not merely work to the benefit of the few. For years, these findings and technologies have flowed into our regular production vehicles.
Is the reason VW can afford expensive projects like the XL1 because the company earns so much money in China and Brazil?
No. We could also afford it from our revenues in Europe. Another point is at the crux of the matter: We have to bring the most advanced environmental technologies to the entire world, starting with Europe. In the foreseeable future, the Chinese market will grow to 20 million vehicles a year. It is our responsibility to facilitate this growth technologically, with highly efficient powertrains based on Western standards, with the DSG [dual-clutch transmission] and with alternative forms of propulsion such as the plug-in hybrid or full-electric cars. This is the only way it can work. I am convinced of this.