published Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

Volkswagen aims to sell 1 million cars in U.S.

Joanne Benante, of Norcross, Ga., who purchased the 100,000th Passat made at the Chattanooga plant, drives her car through a sea of employees.
Joanne Benante, of Norcross, Ga., who purchased the 100,000th Passat made at the Chattanooga plant, drives her car through a sea of employees.
Photo by John Rawlston.

VW SALES

Volkswagen and Audi brands in the U.S. through May:

Audi — 52,000

Volkswagen — 170,000

Source: Volkswagen Group of America

Considered a dream just a few years ago, Volkswagen's goal of selling 1 million vehicles in the U.S. by 2018 now seems possible to industry experts.

"It looks better now than when they first talked about it," said Jesse Toprak of TrueCar.com. "They have the resources and know-how and the right people to pull it off."

Top executives of VW's Chattanooga plant are keeping the goal before employees.

At a recent "all-team meeting," Chattanooga workers viewed a short video that played up what's known as Mach 18 -- VW's ambitious target of 1 million sales by 2018. That would be nearly triple sales numbers of just three years ago in the U.S.

So far this year, VW is on track of getting halfway there.

With sales of VW and luxury brand Audi at more than 222,000 through May, the automaker's aim of hitting 500,000 by year's end is seen as reachable.

Frank Fischer, chief executive for VW in Chattanooga, said the company has gained "real traction" in the market.

"My colleagues in sales are very positive on the numbers," he said.

Fischer added that the redesigned Passat makes up more than 25 percent of all VW sales in the U.S. so far this year.

Toprak said he thinks it's "very likely" the carmaker will sell a half-million vehicles or more in 2012.

While overall U.S. auto sales hit a bit of a roadblock in May and so far in June, Toprak said he's forecasting that car companies are on pace to sell 14.5 million vehicles this year.

He said that figure "should easily be a level of sales necessary for VW to get the [500,000] goal."

But to gain sales of 1 million, Toprak said the company will need for the economy to stay out of a dip and VW will need to "play it smart."

Toprak said the company must be in tune with consumers' wants and anticipate their needs. He said VW also must be flexible in terms of production and able to "turn on a dime" to make product changes if fuel prices dropped sharply, for example.

In addition, Toprak said VW needs to make inroads in the middle part of the country.

"It does quite well on the coasts," he said, but not as well in middle America.

In fact, Toprak said, that may be VW's biggest challenge.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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