Volks for Folks
By Lou Ann Hammond, Fri, 16 Jun 2006 08:00:00 PDT
My girlfriend, Liz, shops at goodwill and thrift stores all the time. Most of those stores are not in the nicest neighborhoods. The first time we went by a house in disrepair I commented on the state of the house. Liz looked out the window and casually said, "I prefer to think of it as a house with potential."
Volkswagen is feeling that way right now. Last week in Wolfsburg, Germany Adrian Hallmark, CEO, VW America,stated "Volkswagen is caught in the middle of the market. Who would have thought that surviving was part of the company objective?" Volkswagen had a wake up call with the Phaeton - it started a tailspin, people wanted their peoples car back and when Volkswagen brought them out, people responded. From Year-to-Year, May-to-May, sales were up 23.6 percent. Jetta was up 48 percent, Beetle up 30 percent and Passat was up 134 percent.
Volkswagen is just climbing back in sales and just when they see some light at the end of the rabbit hole, the Federal EPA and California Resources Boards (CARB) regulations kick in and the Volkswagen diesels that have become so popular with the rise in gas prices won't come out in an '07 model. Diesel fuel is already in about 30 percent of the almost 170,000 gas stations available, unlike ethanol, which is in about 2 percent of the gas stations. Diesel also gets 25 percent better fuel than gasoline and 67 percent better mileage than ethanol. It is a huge loss for America and a big loss for Volkswagen. Fortunately, Volkswagen has other "product" leaping out; one being the Rabbit.
The Rabbit was the first Volkswagen produced in the United States. It sold 1.3 million units in the ten year span and was iconic in its years. Back in the '70s Road and Track named it "the best sedan under $3,500". In 1978 Car and Driver said that "the car that is all by itself at the head of the pack is the VW Rabbit."
Everyone thought the Rabbit was dead, but as most woman my age know, if the Rabbit is dead it means there is a baby due. According to Steve Keyes, PR for Volkswagen, "We were going to call it a Golf. Our advertising agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, said it was time to bring back the Rabbit name. We took a proposition to (Volkswagen brand chief Wolfgang Bernhard) Wolfgang to brand it as a Rabbit instead. He agreed." Volkswagen has four new models due right now in your stores; All four will be a 2.5-liter that passes the hare with 150 horsepower @ 5,000 rpm and jumps the gun with 170 lb.-ft of torque @ 3,750 rpm. All the vehicles, whether they are manual or automatic, two-door or four-door, get 22 city mpg and 30 highway mpg using regular gas. The automatic is the same 6-speed automatic with a torque converter that is in the Jetta and Beetle transmission. This makes deciding whether you want a 2-door or 4-door and a manual or automatic pretty easy.
We only drove the four-doors, but we drove both the stick and the 6-speed automatic. The 2-door manual starts at $14,990 with the automatic starting $16,065. The four-door manual starts at $16,990 with the automatic starting at $18,065. Add $630 for destination charge on each of them. Volkswagen showed us a competitive analysis of the Honda Civic CRV. The two are similar, but a couple that they left out as competitors could be the Kia Spectra, Mazda3 and the Toyota Matrix. All three get better miles per gallon with around the same amount of horsepower as the Rabbit. All are well known in the marketplace.
What is noticed is that the Rabbit is the only German engineered car in this price segment. Smartly, it is a recognized brand with a recognized name with a car that fits the brand. This car is going to be sold because of the iconic name and the competitive segment pricing. If either were not there it wouldn't do as well.
The Rabbit has changed over the years. Gone is the square hatchback of yesteryear. The Rabbit is rounded at the corners, substantive in its styling. Standard are the 15" wheels that take you from 0-60 in 9 seconds flat in a manual and 9.1 in an automatic. The red and blue illuminated instrument panel that is part of the Volkswagen DNA is apparent in the Rabbit. I love Volkswagen for their way-hot heated seats and the Rabbit has them as well as a fold-flat front seat.
Safety standards for the Rabbit include anti-lock brake system with brake assist and traction control. Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP) is optional. If safety is of utmost priority consider the four-door Rabbit, it received the silver award from the Insurance Initiative for Highway Safety (IIHS), based on the frontal offset, side impact and rear crash protection ratings. Probably had a lot to do with the driver and front passenger front and side thorax airbags, side curtain protection, rear passenger side thorax airbags (on the four door only).
Volkswagen is reclaiming their stake in the affordable car market. Their advertising is geared to the urban/city dweller, age 18-34. The Phaeton will be taken out of the Volkswagen mix for right now. The V10 Touareg will be the only 2007 diesel model that folks can buy in all 50 states next year. There are only 18,000 of the old Rabbits still hopping around the hills and dales of America, but if you have one keep it, it will become a collectors car. Hippety-hop.