Special Coverage

NADA Convention & Exposition

SAN FRANCISCO – Keen to avoid missteps, Volkswagen of America is marching deliberately toward its 2018 U.S volume goal of 800,000 sales.

“There won’t be a massive change,” President and CEO Jonathan Browning says of 2011 plans for VWA’s 582-store U.S. dealer network.

It will grow to about 600 sales points by year’s end, he tells journalists at the National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention here.

Post-2014, expect “normal evolution,” Browning says following the VW franchise meeting. “We have to build the capacity, build the performance in to drive the growth.”

Based on Ward’s data, VWA dealers averaged 441 new-vehicle deliveries in 2010. That number will have to approach 500 if the auto maker hopes to achieve Browning’s previously stated 2011 target of 300,000 sales.

Dealers are bullish. Shannon Harper, business manager of Harper Volkswagen in Knoxville, TN, says the 500 mark is doable.

“Everyone has high aspirations for the brand,” he says following a franchise meeting described by many as cordial and upbeat.

But expansion beyond 600 stores seems inevitable. Delivering 800,000 new vehicles would call for a per-store average of more than 1,300. When the U.S. market hit its peak in 2000, the industry-wide per-store average was in the 700-unit range, according to NADA data.

Browning says VWA dealers are demonstrating commitment to the brand with a “significant” amount of investment. More than 20 sites were upgraded last year.

“We’ve got a lot of refurbishment going on right now,” he adds.

In June, VWA expects to show dealers “preview” models of the all-new Passat midsize car. Pre-production units will roll off the line before the second quarter at the auto maker’s new plant in Chattanooga, TN.

Retail-market production is slated for summer, leading to showroom deliveries in early September.

As with VWA’s dealer strategy, “It’s a very measured, steady ramp-up of activity,” Browning says.

“We’re taking a step at a time,” he says. “When you consider we are still ramping up our Jetta activity, and then Passat, this is a new level of activity for VW in the U.S. market, in terms of the recent past.”