It’s the type of news coming from America that Volkswagen desperately needs. After enduring a massive corporate shakeup, and the announcement of a radical restructuring plan over the last few months, the company is trying to stay on track to overtake Toyota and become the world’s largest automaker by 2016. In recent years, however, the company’s biggest obstacle has been the American market, where an aging lineup and lack of SUV/Crossover offerings has put the company at a strong disadvantage, and sales have been stuck in a long, consistent slide.
But it looks like that may be beginning to change. After Volkswagen’s new Golf SportWagen became America’s fastest-selling new car in April, the company followed up with strong months of growing sales. For June, Volkswagen reported monthly sales of 30,436 cars, an increase of 5.6% compared to the year before. And in a move fitting for Motor Trend’s 2015 Car of the Year, sales of the Golf were explosive in June, with dealers moving 6,145 cars for a whopping 143% increase over June 2014, and the best monthly sales since 2000.
Back then, the Golf was limited to a three-door, five-door, and GTI hatch, but today, the popular model has grown into an entire family of cars. On top of the base model (with 1,967 sold last month), and the GTI hot hatch (1,820), there’s the high-performance Golf R (192 sold), the all-electric e-Golf (293), and the five-door SportWagen (1,873). While those sales figures aren’t exactly Toyota Corolla numbers, they represent the second month straight of year-over-year sales gains, and bring Volkswagen’s sales just 50 cars shy of Merceces-Benz.
While Volkswagen and Mercedes aren’t direct competitors, it shows just how much ground the beleaguered brand has covered in the span of a few short months. In June 2014, the brand was reeling, with sales down a whopping 22% from 2013 – which in itself was down 3.2% from 2012. With its recent gains, the brand may be finally righting the ship after a painful bottoming-out period.
The timing of this couldn’t be better for the company. In April, then-Volkswagen Auto Group CEO Ferdinand Piëch became fed up with his namesake brand’s performance in the world’s second largest auto market, and set about placing the blame on Volkswagen brand chief Martin Winterkorn. After the rest of the board blocked Piëch’s maneuvering to get Winterkorn removed, he was forced out after 51 years at the company. With the autocratic Piëch gone, Winterkorn was put in charge, and set about spearheaded a radical plan to decentralize the company, giving its individual brands (Audi, Porsche, and Bentley, among others) greater autonomy and flexibility.
This new strategy could prove to be invaluable in markets like America, where consumers expect faster model redesigns, and have tastes that differ from what the Volkswagen brass in Wolfsburg dictates. With the company solidly unified behind Winterkorn, and signs of a turnaround in the American market, it looks like Volkswagen just might have what it takes to overtake Toyota and General Motors to become the biggest dog on the block. A world where Volkswagens outsell Toyotas would certainly be an interesting one, let’s hope they can catch on in America at the level they already have in the rest of the world.