Winterkorn: America is world's toughest market

Winterkorn humbled by U.S. struggles?

Douglas A. Bolduc is Managing Editor at Automotive News Europe.Douglas A. Bolduc is Managing Editor at Automotive News Europe.
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Volkswagen Group CEO Martin Winterkorn often spices up his speeches at European auto shows with bold predictions and reminders of his company's dominance in the region. That was not the case at the Detroit auto show this week.

Winterkorn reiterated one bold prediction – that VW Group wants to sell 800,000 VWs and 200,000 Audis a year in the United States by 2018. However,  he sounded uncharacteristically humble when he said: "America is the world's toughest auto market."

Tougher than Europe? Really? For VW brand, the answer is yes. The automaker's 2013 U.S. sales fell 7 percent to 407,704 vehicles compared with 2012 and its market share dipped to 2.6 percent from 3 percent. What makes the declines most troubling is that they happened in a total market that was up 8 percent to 15.6 million.

Under Winterkorn, VW has invested billions to boost its U.S. presence. The centerpiece of the spending spree is a shiny new factory in Tennessee. The CEO said this week that "Volkswagen feels at home in America and we want Americans to feel at home with us."

Based on the CEO's tone of voice and the words he used in his speech, it sounds like a lot more work needs to be done to create that homey feeling with U.S. customers.

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