Just about two years ago, in Hall No. 1 of the Dresden Trade Fair building, Volkswagen AG CEO Martin Winterkorn rolled out more than a new idea to 1,800 company executives. He revealed a vision.
In worldwide unit sales, profit, quality and image, VW AG would be No. 1 within a decade, Winterkorn told employees that day.
"No ifs, ands, or buts," he said.
But was that crazy talk?
It's one thing to be Europe's largest automaker. But overtaking Toyota Motor Corp.? Did he spent too much time in a Microbus?
Look who's smoking the competition now.
VW's 42 percent acquisition of Porsche AG -- and an eventual merger of the carmarkers by 2011 -- is the latest move in a trek to larger sales, a broader product lineup and the reality of VW's 2018 vision.
With a four-year takeover battle settled between Porsche and VW, one piece remains: North America.
Remember, this is the company that let product wither and nearly die in North America through much of the 1990s. The company that priced itself out of the market with premium products and vehicles that pushed niche to a new level.
Now VW is on track to get it right.
The company is in the midst of a $1 billion investment in an assembly U.S. plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and developing at least two new models for U.S. tastes. The group, which includes the VW, Audi and Bentley brands, aims to sell 1 million vehicles a year in the United States by 2018 -- more than triple the 313,581 it sold last year.
But to get there, VW needs a model program that offers the design, equipment levels, quality and price the market wants. Meanwhile, the Porsche move does more than add units. It adds momentum.
This isn't a company content to grow incrementally. This is about acquisitions, control and growth. It's about Winterkorn restocking VW's executive ranks with the designers, engineers and strategists who built Audi into Europe's top-selling premium brand. And it's about focusing the right products for the U.S. market -- from 911s to Up city cars.
Last week, first-half sales results showed that VW had reduced its gap with No. 1 Toyota by more than 1 million units, to 464,000.
"We now have what it takes to become the automotive industry's No. 1," Winterkorn said last week.
One market remains. Will you doubt him now?