Friday, June 5, 2020
Features Volkswagen: Rough Start, Rocky Middle, No End In Sight No Matter What

Volkswagen: Rough Start, Rocky Middle, No End In Sight No Matter What

The Giant that is Volkswagen has and will always be a huge target, and a maker of emotion-sparking vehicles.


  • Volkswagen turns 83 years old in late May.

  • It was founded by the German Labour Front.

  • Volkswagen Canada was founded in 1952.

  • VW Auto Group delivered 10.8 million vehicles in 2019.


I feel I need to disclose something before I write this up – I’m a fan of Volkswagen products. In just over two decades, sixteen cars have found their way in my driveway. Of these, seven were VWs, and one was an Audi. So, half were from the VW Auto Group, but do note that four were Hondas…

Everyone has an opinion on Volkswagen

Volkswagen Golf Mk1
Volkswagen Golf Mk1 | Photo: Volkswagen

Why am I sharing this? Because Volkswagen is a constant source of debate, be it as a result of their actions or their products. I always avoid getting in a discussion about the brand as some moments in the company’s history will define them forever. Be it the horribly unreliable cars from the 90s and early 2000s, or more recently, #dieselgate, everyone has an opinion of Volkswagen.

But no matter what, no matter when, no matter how, Volkswagen cars spark emotions. The Type 1 and Type 2, the Beetle and Bus, need little to no introduction or explanation. The Beetle’s origins are what they are, and life has moved on. The cars that were sold alongside, like the Karmann Ghia, the Type 3, or the Type 4 were either great or absolutely terrible – I know, I own a ’73 Type 4. By the mid-70s, Volkswagen evolved by launching the Golf, the Beetle’s successor, the Passat, Scirocco, and Polo.

1973 Volkswagen 412 Wagon | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

The move to water-cooled front-engine and FWD cars opened up a world of possibilities for Volkswagen and it was at this time that the company forged a lasting, albeit constantly tested, relationship with consumers in general, enthusiasts and those who appreciate being a minority. As you may know, in the past, VW allowed itself to be considered slightly more upscale in Canada which enabled them to charge marginally more money for its products. Although that’s changed in 2020, the “upscale” branding was justifiable.


Pleasing all the senses

The first generation Golf had its ups and downs in Canada and the US. The second generation however paved the way for that “upscale” sense of engineering. I’ve owned four of these (still have one) and when I acquired it over 20 years ago, although Civics of the time always ran, the VW’s execution, styling, and on-road behaviour could not be matched – it felt better.

1992 Volkswagen Jetta GLI (getting a boost) | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

I remember driving brand new late MK3 and MK4 Golfs and Jettas and comparing them to the Toyota Corolla and Chevrolet Cavalier of the time – there was no comparison. Sure, the Corolla would start every time and its side windows would not drop without warning on a cold February morning, but when the VW ran, it felt like nothing else. Much of Volkswagen’s reputation for terrible reliability was cultivated between the 90s and 2000s.

What also was like nothing else was Volkswagen’s desire to give its fans a little more – something that still applies today. Almost 45 years ago, they were alone in delivering cars like the Golf (Rabbit) GTI. The real first true sports car was the MK1 Scirocco which arrived just ahead of the GTI. Together, and with the Jetta GLI, passions were and continue to be fueled with two more generations of the Mediterranean wind (only one other in Canada), the Corrado, soon to be seven more generations of the GTI, the Rallye Golf, the Golf R, a few Beetle Turbo and a number of other special cars.


The American factor

2006Volkswagen Golf GTI | Photo: Volkswagen

These cars served their purpose and their DNA rubbed off on nearly all of Volkswagen’s products until the early 2000s. For many, stepping out of their Chrysler Sebring into a Passat or from a Nissan Stanza into a Golf was too much of a stretch. The VWs weren’t plush and soft enough. It was here that the carmaker began focusing on the North American market, in part at the expense of its fanatics.

The 5th and 6th generation Golf and Jetta were bloated, mostly bland, and perfectly adapted for Americans. With the exception of the GTI, the GLI, very rare R32 (MK5), and Golf R (MK6), and I suppose the Beetle Turbo, the remainder of the lineup had forfeited its essence in the hopes of more volume. The bet more or less paid off. The best example of this reality comes to light when comparing the two generations of the Tiguan. The first was loved by brand supporters (I owned one) and overlooked by SUV buyers. The exact opposite has taken place with the MK2 Tiguan.


But then a transition occurred.

TDI

In September 2015, VW got caught with its hand in the cookie jar. Billions of words and dollars have been written and spent following the infamous emissions scandal (wasn’t’ the first but is the best-known). By many accounts, the self-inflicted ordeal has cost VW approximately $35 billion US. In the months and years following the #dieselgate scandal, most other carmakers have admitted or been found guilty of also cheating on emissions. I’m convinced that had it been discovered that another manufacturer was acting in this fashion, we’d be talking about them in the past tense as they would not have survived. VW has not only survived but is thriving.

Volkswagen Pleads Guilty To All Emissions Charges In Canada

It was lucky, in a way, that the 7th generation Golf was already on the road and was, as close as possible, a true evolution of the Golfs of the past. While the Jetta also underwent a similar transformation, as the best-selling Volkswagen car in the US, it maintained its Americanised German DNA. A new mega-VW was also on the way in the Atlas as was a new Tiguan which, when combined, would allow the company to root themselves in American soil. These products have helped keep VW afloat on this continent, and more.


Moving forward

Volkswagen ID Space-Vizzion Concept | Photo: Volkswagen

Volkswagen is preparing for a planned enormous, albeit risky, change. But, unlike most other mainstream manufacturers, they’re addressing fans, aficionados, and their latest conquered clientele. The German car company has confirmed that the next generation of its cars and SUVs will be the last to rely on petrol for motivation. Here too, much has been written about Volkswagen’s upcoming ID. family of electric vehicles. Already, production on the ID.3 is about to begin while in Chattanooga, TN, the ID.4 electric SUV will begin rolling off the assembly line by the end of this year.

Both of these vehicles will cater to the masses, but while they are coming, VW is wisely showing everyone something that is immensely crucial, something that has drawn and continues to draw consumers to the brand and product: Passion. Volkswagen is digging into its storied past for the future with the ID. Buzz, or ID.7. They’ve hinted at a station wagon in the ID. SPACE VIZZION Concept which may be a trim for ID.5. And that’s only part of it. Already, Volkswagen is hinting that R variants, be they R-Line or full-on R, are in the works for many of its EVs

The Volkswagen ID.4 is Finally Here

For the most part, Volkswagen has managed to create links between its products for a very long time. Cultivating these bonds, from a Golf GTI to a Tiguan R-Line for example, are what helps keep buyers within the family. VW is in an advantageous position where these bonds extend to Audi and Porsche as well. Moving forward, the jump from the ID.5 to an Audi e-Tron Sportback and ultimately to a Porsche Taycan will keep the spark alive.

No matter what, Volkswagen will continue to spark conversations and heated debates but I figure that’s because they’re doing something right.

2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI – Volkswagen

2021 Volkswagen Atlas | Photo: Volkswagen

2019 Volkswagen Arteon
2019 Volkswagen Arteon | Photo: Volkswagen

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Matt St-Pierre
Matt St-Pierre
Trained as an Automotive Technician, Matt has two decades of automotive journalism under his belt. He’s done TV, radio, print and this thing called the internet. He’s an avid collector of many 4-wheeled things, all of them under 1,400 kg, holds a recently expired racing license and is a father of two. Life is beautiful. Send Matt an emai

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