Special Coverage

2011 Chicago Auto Show

CHICAGO – Volkswagen of America wants to expand its model lineup, but that’s not a top priority or at the head of its to-do list, says President and CEO Jonathan Browning.

“I'd love to see a version of the Microbus in our lineup and get it back in our portfolio,” Browning tells the Economic Club of Chicago at a luncheon held in conjunction with media preview days at the Chicago Auto Show.

“First we are committed to rebuilding our core vehicles in the lineup,” he adds. “Yet there is always room for more and there would be a role for the bus at some point in the future.”

VW showed a concept for a retro-styled Microbus minivan in 2001 and had plans for a production version, but those were scrapped later in the decade, reportedly because the model lacked global appeal.

The Scirocco and Phaeton also have a shot at a return to the U.S., Browning says, “though not in the current product cycle, but in the next one when we would review the case and would like a high-performance car like Scirocco. But any plans wouldn't be immediate.”

In response to a question at the luncheon of Chicago businessmen, Browning says additional products will be needed to fill VW’s new plant in Tennessee, which is building the ʼ12 Passat and has capacity for 150,000 vehicles annually.

The facility could be ramped up further to 250,000 units per year, and there is room to add a sister plant on the site, taking capacity to 500,000 units annually, VW has said.

“There's no way we'd fill capacity with just Passat,” Browning says, adding it is much too early to say what else could be added.

Asked if the revamped ʼ12 Beetle due this year could ever match the sales of the original model, which helped make VW the import sales leader in the U.S. at one time, Browning responds, “It's unlikely it would reach those astronomical numbers again.”