Stephan Jacoby's Boots: Mark Barnes Interview, VW's Stride for Success? Page 2

April 27, 2010

Jacoby's boots as seen in Detroit

Another big VWoA change:  a new dealership ID program.  About 10 years ago, VW introduced Marketplace stores.  VW isn't replacing them, says Barnes.  Instead it's developing new sales and service points called "White Frames."  These have two frames within a wider box.  One highlights vehicles and the other the store entrance.  Why White Frames?  They can "top hat" buildings GM or Chrysler jettisoned.

VWAG and VWoA collaborated on White Frames.  It is constructing a $125 million VW/Audi showcase in Manhattan.  This bold architectural template should woo American consumers and its American dealers.   One thing that won't change:  VW's lollipop logo.

Speaking of VW stores, VW thinks dealership enrichment is vital.  Barnes' carefully chosen language explains how VW enhances dealer performance. VW overhauled its customer survey methodology.  Barnes says VW's former techniques didn't reveal the whole story-many buyers weren't happy.  Therefore, VW now examines customer experience.  It uses open-ended questions that let respondents express how they feel.

Barnes says VW will improve VW brand loyalty in sales and service.  It developed special teams, an internal boot camp, that assess dealer performance and provide training.  I've been told these teams are effective.  Quick customer service is a goal.

Products are key.  Barnes imagines a three-prong product strategy that will increase sales:  a new less-expensive compact sedan (Jetta), a new midsize sedan (Tennessee built) and a New Beetle.

What else?  Well the Detroit show is an international event.  VW uses this real estate to talk to the press, dealers and consumers.  For example, the New Compact Coupe told the world that VW has hybrid technology.

You might consider it a peek at the Jetta's new face.  VW's German managers, however, steadfastly said the NCC is NOT the new Jetta. Some who saw the NCC exclaimed it's "gorgeous."  One VW dealer told me, "we could sell a lot of VWs, if they looked like that."

William Cook, an NAIAS director, has a different take.  He argues that the NCC is a "smart idea; it plays well with the German press."  It's proof that Detroit's show is international.  And according to VW PR guru Steve Keyes, VW brought in about 65 mostly European journalists.  The NCC press release claimed it fit between European Scirocco and CC.  This reference to a Europe-only VW says a lot.  VW staged this press conference for Europeans.

Whether VWoA can increase its U.S. sales nearly 300% (800,000 units) by 2018 appears unlikely.  Nonetheless, it looks like VW will pull itself up by its, say, bootstraps.  Setting this ambitious goal might spur VW's people-focused management, its staff and dealers to think big.  That's a major accomplishment.  With new ads, an upcoming lower-cost compact and VW's Carefree Maintenance, VW's people-skill leadership thinks it can move consumer attitudes into the VW-considered corral.

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