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2018, Mar - May

ARTEON: VW introduces its stylish replacement for the CC model. 

By Cliff Leppke

Arteon: VW’s new ‘brand shaper’? 

McCormick Place is the Chicago Auto Show’s home. It’s the nation’s largest consumer-oriented auto show. It has floor space for several indoor tracks and thousands of tire kickers. It’s the spot where carmakers introduce specialty models, such as the 2019 VW Arteon. 

This venue, unlike Detroit’s, commences with a media preview that leads directly to the consumer show. In Detroit, press days precede an industry world congress, which is followed by the consumer show. That’s why your correspondents arrived in Detroit on a Saturday — a week before the show opened to the public. 

In contrast, this correspondent arrived in Chicago via Amtrak’s Hiawatha on Wednesday ready to check out the Concept and Technology Garage. Because VW’s Jetta design soiree (Wednesday night) was intimate, I joined Nissan’s party atop the Marriott Marquis — great view, and then headed to Lexus with its “Black Panther” movie car. 

Chicago’s show is easy to navigate. In Detroit, much planning is required. You select a few events and then arrive early. Due to 5,000 credentialed media, late-comers cannot witness the fuss.

Chicago’s Thursday press ops commenced with the Midwest Automotive Media Association’s breakfast. Then the fun began. I nabbed a press-guest ticket to hear VW CEO Hinrich Woebcken address the Chicago Economic Club — noon, McCormick Place. 

VW’s pressers: the 2019 Arteon (Thursday), and a 2019 Jetta designer-led walkaround (Friday).

I scored time with VW’s, Klaus Bischoff. He was my Arteon tour guide. Besides designing it, he drives one. The “3D” headlamps, he says, vexed VW’s production engineers. They’re exquisitely detailed. The LED daytime running lamps, for example, add excitement and widen the car’s face. Bright grille slats flow seamlessly through these lamps. Lower your eyes. The bumper’s functional scoops direct airflow. Enjoy the Audi TT-like clamshell hood. It meets each fender with a nifty cutline that doesn’t mar wheel arches.

Raised lines flank the Arteon with uncuts above and below them. He pointed his finger at a panel behind the rear-door cutline. The peaked metal sculpture ends there and then bends unbuckled into the door-surround. Another theme: the undercut or indent below fender-arch lines. Just enough negative space makes it a light catcher. If not done well, this delicious bit would be a wavy mess. It’s flawless.

Sometimes style requires hand-crafting. The best example: the upper rear quarter panel that forms a spoiler. It wraps through the liftgate. This chamfered surface must end at the liftgate’s cutline and then bend 90-degrees inward. That cannot be stamped. Therefore, each quarter panel’s upper rear edge is filled by hand. 

Woebcken’s talk to the economic club began by addressing the company’s crisis, which he politely described as the TDI disappointment. VW removed 440,000 of about 500,000 polluting machines from American roadways. This prompt, one-year action met EPA mandates and compensated consumers. Now, VW must tell a comeback story.

Woebcken says a whole generation grew up with VW’s original American success story that peaked in the late 1960s. Then, VW sold more than 560,000 vehicles a year based on what he says was a two-product line: Beetle, Bus. He admitted that while a generation of VW fans grew up with these vehicles, some were conceived in them (much laughter). During the 1970s, VW tried but never regained traction in America. 

This high point, however, wasn’t based on two models. The Type 3 series found nearly 100,000 takers in 1970. The Bus wasn’t nearly so hot a seller at, say, 56,000 units. And the Karmann Ghia found nearly 38,000 buyers. During VW’s glory days, Americans bought Fastbacks, Squarebacks and Ghias. These were omitted from Woebcken’s narrative. It’s time to put the record straight.

While the VW brand still resonates with people, Woebcken says VW has more fans than customers. To build momentum, the firm’s new North American Region will chart its own course. This, he says, might be a bright spot because the diesel crisis required a major shift away from German control over its American outpost. 

Evidence that the NAR is working: the Atlas. Germany wanted another tongue-twisting T at the beginning of this machine’s sobriquet. Dealers said, no! And Atlas, which received their approval, won. Hmmm. Remember when the U.S. operations changed the Golf’s name to Rabbit in 2006? Sorry, just saying…

Anyhow, VW is pushing roomier vehicles stateside rather than smaller ones. VW must grow; that’s the American market’s heart. Yet, the relatively svelte Jetta, which he describes as popular with college students, has been remade for the USA. The Arteon, he hopes, will become VW’s “brand shaper.” 

VW is rebuilding the brand in several ways. One is future product including the Passat and two more CUVs — one derived from the Tiguan, the other from the Atlas. Another is price. VW wants to be in the market’s sweet spot, not $2,000 to $5,000 more. With NAR, engineering and manufacturing costs can be reduced. The U.S. consumer wants reliable cars that don’t cost too much to operate. That’s why VW offers the transferable People First Warranty. 

This hardly scratches the surface. There’s the new electric vehicle platform. Don’t probe autonomous vehicles too much. He describes them as exciting, but the ethics of who’s responsible for critical situations hasn’t been determined.

Now, back to the Chicago press preview. Probably the most amusing press kit goes to Ford’s Transit Connect. Because baby boomers buy them, Ford handed out bags with reading glasses, Lifesavers and facial tissue — I’m not making this up! I asked for a Connect with an eight-track tape player. Just kidding. Fiat announced that every Lilliputian 500 gets a boosted engine; Toyota presented off-road trucks; Subaru its 50th anniversary specials; and Mazda presented a refreshed Miata and Mazda6. 

Jody Hall, vice president for the Steel Market Development Institute, made the strongest steel pitch I’ve heard. The claim: the focus on vehicle fuel economy is shifting material use toward stuff that creates more pollution to produce, form and dispose. Steel, in contrast, has a significantly lower environmental impact. Earlier, Hall showed me how new steels meet vehicle safety requirements without big roof pillars. The 2019 Jetta, she says, incorporates new steel grades. Her keen eyes saw smooth paint and expertly stamped metal.

Due to an approaching storm, the press and some manufacturer reps left Chi-Town before Friday’s pressers. This meant a less-crowded Wednesday night Mazda pizza party. And the much-loved Chicago blues joint where we gather before heading back to our hotels wasn’t as hot. 

On Friday, VW’s California-based designers became Jetta tour guides. Sangwoo Lee, an interior expert, gave me the lowdown on the car’s use of six-sided shapes. From the grille and headlights, to the instrument panel and cup holders, hex-like forms abound. The front center armrest now covers a mega-sized compartment that ingests an iPad. It’s also ergonomically shaped to provide the driver with a soft-touch elbow pad. It’s shorter on the passenger’s side to accommodate cup-holder beverages. 

Because the car must be affordable, you’ll notice that the passenger sun visor doesn’t extend when swiveled to block side-window sun. The driver’s does, however. Also, don’t expect rear face vents or rear electrical outlets. Front vent thumbwheels were nixed. The under-dash bits are untidy.

In exchange, the dashboard and front door panels are pliable, a welcomed change. And because of American input, VW put the center infotainment screen high on the dashboard for easy viewing — vents are below it. Thus, the driver-focused dashboard is uniquely Jetta.

Suddenly, I noticed that I had to catch the Metra train in order to walk to Union Station to board the Hiawatha. So, I left snowy Chicago and arrived in Milwaukee just in time to dig out from one snowstorm and prepare for the next. 

Cliff Leppke | leppke.cliff@gmail.com 

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE:

  • NEW JETTA:  The2019 Jetta joins the stable of VWs unique to the North American market.
  • PASSAT GT: VW is expanding its U.S. Passat range with this limited-production model.
  • MANUAL CHOKE:  Beetles with an automatic choke can benefit from this downgrade.

PLUS OUR REGULAR COLUMNS AND FEATURES:

  • Driver's Seat - VW news & views by Cliff Leppke
  • Frontdriver – Richard G. Van Treuren
  • Small Talk - VW and Audi news - quickly
  • Retro Autoist - From the archives
  • Parting Shot - Photo feature
  • Local Volks Scene - A snapshot of local chapter activities
  • VW Toon-ups - Cartoon feature by Tom Janiszewski

LOGGED-IN MEMBERS CAN SEE THE ENTIRE AUTOIST ISSUE BY CLICKING ON THE COVER PHOTO ABOVE.

 

 

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