Michael Horn, left, incoming president & CEO Volkswagon Group of America and professor Martin Winterkorn, right, CEO of Volkswagon Group, pose with the VW Dune at Detroit Auto Show on Monday. (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)
Detroit — Volkswagen AG’s U.S. chief says he wants a compact SUV for the U.S. market and says he thinks the company can meet its German parent’s aggressive goal of 800,000 U.S. vehicle sales by 2018 — and in the long-term needs to go beyond that.
Michael Horn, a long-time VW executive who was named the new chief of VW in the U.S. late last month, told reporters Monday in a roundtable at the North American International Auto Show, that the brand will grow here.
His boss, VW Group chief Martin Winterkorn, reaffirmed the goal set in 2008 to sell 1 million VW and Audi vehicles in the U.S. by 2018 — to more than triple its sales over a decade. Winterkorn met with U.S. dealers in the Washington, DC area this summer to emphasize the company would bring new models to the U.S. market.
“If we get the product, “yes we can meet the goal,” Horn said. “If we want to be really successful we need to do more than this because to get the economies of scale, to get the engines, the drivetrains being produced here, that’s when you start to get away from the dollar-euro exchange rate issues... I think it’s a great strategy.”
Some analysts think VW focused too much on cars in recent years and should have focused more on SUVs for the U.S. market. VW U.S. sales fell 7 percent in 2013.
That came after VW had launched a series of new or refreshed products that led to three straight years of double digit U.S. growth. In 2012, sales jumped 35 percent with 438,133 sold, marking the company’s best year since 1973.
The automaker had its all-time U.S. peak in 1970, with nearly 570,000 vehicles sold.
The 2018 sales goal came after VW announced in 2007 it would move its U.S. headquarters from Michigan’s Oakland County, the epicenter of the U.S. auto industry, to Herndon, Va., to be closer to its customer base on the East Coast.
In 2011, it opened an assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., its first since closing a U.S. plant in Pennsylvania in 1986. It now assembles in North America more than 72 percent of the vehicles it sells in the United States, and has vowed to boost that tally to at least 75 percent.
On Sunday, VW announced it will invest $7 billion in North America over five years and confirmed it will bring a mid-size SUV to the U.S. market in 2016, but didn’t confirm if it will build it at its Chattanooga plant.
“We have to push a little bit more on the pedal,” said Horn, a German who got a business degree in San Francisco and worked as an assistant to the VW U.S. chief in the early 1990s.
VW currently sells a Tiguan compact SUV that is assembled in Europe. The compact SUV segment in the U.S. is more than 2 million vehicles and growing — and VW should build one in North America, Horn says. “Customers want these cars,” Horn said.
He also expects Golf sales to rise. VW U.S. Golf sales fell 24 percent to 30,931. VW unveiled its Golf R at the North American International Show in Detroit. He said VW has no plans to sell a pickup in the United States. He noted that VW sells a small pickup truck in South America that he jokingly said could fit in the bed of an F-150.
The VW Group has more than a dozen brands across the world including Audi, Skoda, Lamborghini, Bentley, Porsche and Seat as it vows to become the world’s largest automaker. The company’s worldwide sales were up 5 percent to 9.7 million in 2013.
“I know about how the decisions are being made,” Horn said. “I know about the politics in the system and what you need to do.”