Volkswagen’s struggles to sell cars in the US market at anything close to the rate its mainstream competitors are managing are well documented. Try as it may, the German manufacturer has been unable to punch beyond the niche of cars for people who want to be different and are willing to pay a little extra for the privilege. Its list of faux-pas is long: from bungling the local production of the Golf/Jetta in the 1980s that lead to myriad quality issues, through trying to sell cars that were too small and too expensive for the US market, all the way to missing out on the crossover wave. While the “right-sized” US/Chinese Passat and Jetta helped matters a little bit in the early 2010s, these cars have since slid back behind their competitors in terms of sales and appeal.
So, this might be the right time to try something drastic – rather than develop more US-specific cars or struggle with their Euro-centric line-up, VW should take Skoda’s mainstream offerings, rebrand them as VWs in the US and watch as they fly off the shelves.
Sure, this is by no means a new idea, but arguably now it’s more true than ever, for five reasons:
1. Skoda’s brand values appeal more to US consumers than VW’s
This is arguably the point VAG fails to grasp – the US market is different than the European one, and Skoda’s ethos of making cars that are great value-for-money (not cheap, mind) seems to fit it better than what VW’s positioning between mainstream and premium. Yes, VW tried to target the US consumer squarely with the US Passat, but the end product come out looking like they tried to make the car cheaper and consumer duly steered clear. By comparison, Skoda’s cars just feel like they’re designed to be the best they can within the mainstream, rather than being cheapened versions of better-engineered sister models.
2. Skoda makes some amazing cars…
The new Fabia, Octavia and especially Superb show that, when given the chance, Skoda’s engineers can put together packages that are close to class-leading. No longer the butt of jokes (“why do Skoda’s have heated rear windows? so that your hands don’t freeze when you push-start it in the winter!”), these cars have taken the best of VAG’s technology (MQB platform, engines, gearboxes) and put it together in a way that makes the cars more spacious, better value and sufficiently different from other VAG products not to feel like clones.
3. …that would fit pretty great into the US market
The Fabia would be a perfect fit into the growing “subcompact” market in the US, competing head-on with no-nonsense practical offerings like the Honda Fit/Jazz or Hyundai Accent. The Superb too would be a great entrant into the ever-growing “midsize” sedan market, offering better space, technology and sharper looks than the US Passat. Only the Octavia might be a smidgen too large to compete directly with the Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic, but price it right and it too should sell. Finally, the Octavia Wagon Scout 4×4 could strike squarely at the Subaru Outback.
4. Skoda has even more in the pipeline
In addition to the cars its already making, Skoda has not one but two crossovers in the pipeline – the new Yeti and a larger one, itself a version of the upcoming US VW crossover. These should appeal to the growing crossover market in the US, which just like Skoda is all about family-friendliness and inoffensive dynamics.
5. VW could blend Skoda and VW models at will
The upside of Skoda’s styling being so close to its German big brother is that it would not take much effort to make Skodas look like VWs for the US market. In addition, VW could still sell its halo models in the US if it wanted to – the Golf TDI/GTI/R, Beetle, or Touareg.
So, what do you think? Would it make sense to sell Skodas in the US? Let us know in the poll below and in the comments section.