Shaun Del Grande was an early critic of the way Volkswagen doggedly pursued its goal to sell 800,000 vehicles a year in the U.S. by 2018.
"I was a complainer," admits Del Grande, president of Del Grande Dealer Group in San Jose, Calif., and one of many VW dealers frustrated with what they saw as undue pressure from the factory to hit the ambitious target.
In recent weeks, Volkswagen has said it's sticking by its 800,000-vehicle goal. But dealers such as Del Grande now sound much more positive about it, amid increasing signs that they won't have to shoulder the burden themselves.
For example, VW has stopped the clock on its sales target, telling a gathering at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention last month that boosting dealership profitability would be more important than the 2018 date, or any specific date.
After missing the current crossover boom, VW pledged last month to bring two new North America-built crossovers to dealerships in 2017 and is mulling at least a third crossover to add to the portfolio afterward. And it announced plans to add 100 dealerships in the U.S. by 2019, but only in markets without any VW dealerships today, so as not to undercut existing dealers. Most would open after the new crossovers arrive.
The announcements last month followed several other changes that have cheered up U.S. dealers since Michael Horn took over as head of Volkswagen Group of America just more than a year ago. In the last year, VW said it would shorten its product life cycles to more closely match U.S. purchase patterns. It created new local marketing associations to give dealers a bigger voice in ad campaigns and promotions. And it's hiring 200 engineers to staff an r&d center in Chattanooga to bolster its U.S.-product planning chops.
"They're fixing the structural issues," Del Grande said. "It's not there yet, but I think this brand is going to get better every year."