The Wagen That’s Not for the Volk Anymore

Some people think that those who’ve been “vaccinated” are already dead – because they will be, soon.

Could the same be true of Volkswagen?

The manufacture of cars for the people – it’s literally what Volkswagen means, in German – announced the other day that it will stop making about 60 percent of the models in its current inventory, all of them the combustion-engined ones that people can afford to buy, in order to focus on “premium” cars, all of them electric, that only a few people can afford to buy.

“The key target is not growth,” said VW’s finance chief Arno Antlitz.

Well, that was tried before – though not intentionally.

Some will recall the last attempt VW made to go uptown – back in the ’90s – when it launched the Phaeton, an ultra-premium luxury sedan with a price well beyond the means of the Volk. The problem was that those who had the means did not want a Volkswagen. Not because there is anything wrong with Volkswagen, much less the Phaeton – which was as opulent as any comparable Audi or Mercedes of the same period and in some ways even more so. But it wasn’t an Audi or a Mercedes – and therein laid the rub.

A big part of the reason why the not-volk are willing to spend das geld on a premium  vehicle is because it is a premium vehicle. More precisely stated, because it is not a wagen for the volk.

It has little to do with features and amenities or even power. It has to do with perceived status and exclusivity. It is why Toyota doesn’t sell a number of the models it makes at Toyota stores – or under the Toyota label. It sells them at Lexus stores – under the Lexus label. Hyundai recently bifurcated itself similarly. Hyundais (and Kias) for the volk – and Genesis models (and stores) for the people who have the means to avoid rubbing elbows with the volk.

The problem for VW is how does Volkswagen sell cars to those people?

The Phaeton certainly didn’t sell. It was one of the weirdest yet most predictable automotive belly flops of the past 50-plus years in that unlike, say, the Pontiac Aztec, it wasn’t ugly and unlike, say, the Chevy Vega it wasn’t a poorly built vehicle. Far from it. But it was a Volkswagen. Trying to sell a $70,000 VW like the Phaeton was kind of like trying to sell a $5,000 Timex watch. It’s well-built, it has all the features. It may even be a better watch.

But it’s not a Rolex.

VW may have to change its name to suit its changing lineup – perhaps Herrenvolk? –  in order to have any hope of appealing to the people who own Rolexes and can afford to spend “premium” money on cars.

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