Eric Mayne's Blog

The Mayne Objective: Props, Chops and Missed Ops


Press days conclude at another auto show and once again, Volkswagen leaves me wanting.

Sure, the up! minicar is perky. And its potential progeny, represented by a gaggle of intriguing concepts, suggest the kind of product-development clout VW will need to achieve the global dominance it covets.

But where is the passion? Where is the car that inspires want instead of satisfying, however ably, our various needs?

No, I'm not still moping about the plain-ness of the new Passat. I'm over that. The car will do fine. Ditto the Jetta.

But just look at the CC (and even the redesigned '12 Beetle) and it's clear there is serious talent in Wolfsburg.

Why not turn them loose on a project that will turn VW dealerships into the Apple stores of the auto industry, where design acts on consumers like a dream-inducing drug?

I'm talking about an updated version of the Karmann Ghia.

The timing is perfect. Consider the way the market has responded to modern iterations of the Mini and Fiat 500.

At last year's Paris auto show, I asked VW design chief Walter de Silva if he is contemplating such a project. He laughed in my face.

OK, I'm exaggerating. He was very gracious. VW first needs to gain solid foothold in volume segments before launching a niche product, he told me.

Basically, de Silva likened VW to a musician. Even a virtuoso needs to feel the beat before tackling a solo.

* * *

Chrysler has certainly found its chops of late.

Admittedly, some of the auto maker's good fortune is derived from the inventory woes of usually formidable Honda and Toyota. But the momentum is still worth noting:

• Last month, for the first time, the Chrysler 200 joined the top 15 best-selling U.S.-market cars at No.14, according to WardsAuto data. And its total sales, since launching in 2010, will surpass 50,000 before Oct. 1.

• The Ram fullsize light-duty pickup finished No.3 among best-selling trucks for the first time since April 2009, clipping the Ford Escape.

• The celebrated Jeep Grand Cherokee rejoined the top 15 best-selling light trucks in August, ranking 12th -- a position it hasn't held since December 2010.

• And, for the first time since February, Dodge jumped up to seventh place among the best-selling U.S.-market brands.

In an e-mail to WardsAuto, Dodge chief and Chrysler's U.S. sales boss Reid Bigland says last month's results represent "the ultimate confirmation that our company and our products are on the right path and resonating well with consumers.”

* * *

And as long as we're giving props, John Krafcik is definitely due. Hyundai Motor America's affable CEO is now a style icon, having been named Esquire's 2011 Auto Executive of the Year.

Says the magazine, arbiter of all things ultra-cool: “During his tenure, the company has finished its transformation from automotive joke — Jay Leno once proclaimed that Hyundais were so worthless that filling the gas tank would double their value — to solid, no-frills carmaker; to full-fledged juggernaut.”

Here’s a good bet. Had Krafcik left Ford for VW instead of Hyundai, we'd probably have that new Karman Ghia by now.

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