DETROIT -- Volkswagen Group of America's CEO said the automaker is ready to build a new relationship with American consumers.
“We are at home in America. The pieces are in place,” Stefan Jacoby said at the Automotive News World Congress.
The automaker aims to sell 800,000 vehicles annually in the United States by 2018.
Last year, VW Group, including VW's Audi luxury brand, sold 297,537 vehicles in the United States, down 5 percent from sales of 313,581 vehicles in 2008. The entire U.S. light-vehicle market plunged 21 percent last year.
VW's sales expansion will be led by new products, including a mid-sized sedan designed for American tastes that will be built at the automaker's new plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Construction of the plant will be completed late this year, and production of the new sedan will ramp up in early 2011. Sales will begin later in the year.
Jacoby said the automaker now is hiring for the Tennessee plant. In all, 2,000 people will be employed there. VW expects to assemble 150,000 cars annually at the plant, of which 25,000 to 35,000 will be shipped to Canada and Mexico.
VW, meanwhile, is preparing its dealer body for several new products, including the redesigned 2011 Jetta sedan and 2011 Touaregthat arrive later this year and the redesigned 2012 New Beetle coming next year.
“We plan to sell the cars America wants” in terms of styling, price and value, Jacoby said, adding, “We have to open Volkswagen to the American middle class” with a wide range of vehicles.
He said the VW Beetle and Microbus van generated positive memories for many consumers and that they still share their stories. “I want to provide such good memories for a new group of buyers,” he said.
As part of that process, the company will need to change a misconception U.S. buyers have about Volkswagen.
“Our weakness in the United States is the perception concerning reliability and quality,” he said. “We are improving significantly. Consumer Reports now recommends eight Volkswagen vehicles, up from three in 2008.”
Additionally, Jacoby said, J.D. Power and Associates has awarded Volkswagen four awards. “But it takes time to change a consumer's perception,” he said.
In other news, Jacoby said:
• VW has no plans to change Suzuki's business culture. VW purchased 19 percent of Suzuki last year. “We must respect the ways they do business,” he said.
• Currently, there are 580 U.S. dealers; he wants to add about 40 dealers.
• VW's new advertising campaign will launch Feb. 7 during the telecast of the Super Bowl in Miami. The spot will be shown at the beginning of the third quarter.
• The next-generation Phaeton sedan “has a good chance of coming to the United States,” he said. No time frame was given.