THE NEW Beetle provides a good example for Europe's volume carmakers. America is a market that cannot be ignored.
Carl Hahn knew that. The former Volkswagen Chairman was responsible for the success of the old Beetle in the USA. Hahn went to America in 1959 to head VW's operations there. He pushed sales to almost 500,000 annually. It was the auto marketing success story of the half-century.
Hahn ought to have been in Detroit for the new Beetle. He understood what the car meant to Americans.
So does Jens Neumann, VW management board member with responsibility for North America. Neumann convinced top management that Americans have an emotional bond with the Beetle. VW decided to make the car the basis of a renewed effort in the USA.
Peugeot, Renault, Rover, Fiat and Alfa Romeo all stumbled in the USA in the 1980s. Strong European currencies were partly to blame, but mostly they withdrew because their products weren't right for the US market.
Twenty years earlier, the Beetle succeeded because it was exactly the right car for hundreds of thousands of mostly young Americans.
With the flexibility of modern platforms, carmakers can afford to search for those niches again. Length, width and shape no longer have to be standard to achieve adequate economies of scale.
Volkswagen spent $500 million on the new Beetle. It would have spent much more without the A-platform, the mechanical skeleton that will be the basis of 2.25 million VW, Audi, Skoda and Seat cars by 2000.
It's time for Europe's volume makers to look again to America.
Spending all their energy and resources on emerging markets, while ignoring the world's largest and most stable auto market is hard to justify.
Take a lesson from Carl Hahn.