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Volkswagen’s Re-Branding Strategy in Wake of Dieselgate Focuses on Sex, Crossovers

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With oceans of TDI-powered cars sitting in lots awaiting uncertain fates, the foul odor of deception lingering in the air, Volkswagen’s brand image is in worse shape than it has been in decades. But though the company is down, it’s not out — and it’s already fighting to make its comeback. To do so, it will need to rebrand itself and refocus its efforts on new territory.

That’s exactly what the brand is planning to do, according to Vinay Shahani, Senior Vice President of Marketing at VW of America, and Dr. Hendrik Muth, Senior Vice President of Product Marketing and Strategy. AUTOMOBILE sat down with Muth and Shahani during the 2017 New York auto show to learn more about the brand’s efforts at repairing its reputation, including the new product strategy that will be the centerpiece of the effort in North America.

First and foremost, a seachange in the way the U.S. and North American markets operate in relation to the home office in Wolfsburg is underway, and it’s leading to much greater autonomy in product planning and brand positioning. One of the primary aspects of the changes coming to Volkswagen in America is a more complete lineup of vehicles, starting with a renewed focus on crossovers, while preserving the fun-to-drive reputation won by its previous lineup of smaller cars. At the crest of that wave is the Atlas seven-passenger crossover, which is built around the same MQB platform that underpins the Golf.

To kick off the new Atlas family crossover and the broader range focus for the brand, Volkswagen is launching a series of ads with a somewhat racy theme, though presented as innocuously as possible: a sequence of progressively larger cars a-rocking as the family grows and upgrades from Jetta to Tiguan to Atlas. It’s a cute and humorous way to explain the brand’s increased span of family vehicles, but the cynical might see the jocular sexuality as a Trump-style distraction from the brand’s ongoing problems. Taking it at face value, however, it’s a tidy encapsulation of VW’s new direction in America.

“This is the year of SUVs,” said Shahani. “Volkswagen is moving from being a small-car manufacturer to more of a full-line, family-centric brand.”

Volkswagen is also acknowledging that it has had issues beyond just the Dieselgate fiasco, including consumer questions about reliability and value. To that end, a new six-year/72,000-mile bumper-to-bumper fully transferable warranty launched for the Atlas.

“There’s a statement that we came up with that really represents an…

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