Blog: VW at Detroit

15 Jan, 2013 12:14pm Graham Hope

Our deputy editor, Graham Hope, on why Volkswagen was the real star of the Detroit Motor Show

If volume dictated matters, the undisputed star of this year’s Detroit Motor Show was the new Chevrolet Corvette Stingray.

In front of a rapturous crowd of patriotic media, industry types and portly rednecks, the new-for-2013 C7 was unveiled in a building the size of Belgium beside one of the many post-apocalyptic areas of Detroit that skirt its city centre.

To these eyes it looked like more of the same, but they loved it and expressed their enthusiasm in that most American of ways – hollering and whooping and wanting to get their picture taken beside it. It was VERY Detroit.

But across town on the same evening was an event of more manageable proportions but of far greater relevance to us in the UK, and the industry as a whole.

The Volkswagen Group reception served as a celebration party of a record year in 2012. Startling figures were trotted out in a matter of fact style by the bosses of VW, Audi and Porsche and must have sounded very ominous indeed for other manufacturers.

9.1million sales worldwide in 2012 (behind only Toyota and GM). VW up 35 per cent in the US. Audi targeting 1.5million globally a year by 2015, up from 1.45m at present, and intending to overtake BMW as the biggest premium brand by 2020. Porsche sales up 18.7 per cent last year worldwide.

Once a bit-part player in the US, VW’s multi-billion dollar investment in North America is paying off handsomely. Yet another new factory opened this week – in Silao, Mexico – and the juggernaut shows no sign of slowing down.

Strategic targeting of the US market is making it stronger and stronger across the world. But amid all the fanfare, one question of mine VW CEO Martin Winterkorn didn’t want to answer directly was what all this meant for rivals.

In Europe, in particular, several makers are struggling badly as most of the VW Group brands go from strength from strength. Excess production and potential closure of factories are a real problem.

But as his final statement of a triumphant night, Winterkorn deadpanned: “What competitors are doing with overcapacity I don’t know. But we are not cutting back.”

So it’s full steam ahead, then. On a night when America loudly hailed one of its own automotive heroes, I can’t help feeling that this - and not the Corvette’s coronation as king of Detroit 2013 - will be more significant in the long run.