Volkswagen raised a lot of eyebrows five years ago when it vowed to become the world's No. 1 car maker, as measured by sales, by 2018. General Motors was still very much on the global throne then, and Toyota was its No. 1 threat.
But VW got with it and has become an extremely credible bet to carry out its pledge. It's even possible that — depending on how the three companies measure sales from their joint ventures in China — Volkswagen already could threaten to become the world's largest auto maker this year. VW certainly is vying with a resurgent GM and a wounded Toyota to meet its goal seven years early, as each of them closes in this month on around 8 million sales for the year.
VW has leapt ahead of expectations on the strength of a sales boom in China and in other emerging markets in recent years, acquisitions of other brands such as the Czech bargain-price marque Skoda, and a better-than-predicted surge back into the U.S. market with new products and VW's first U.S. assembly plant in decades, which makes the Passat in Chattanooga, Tenn. And let's not forget the well-oiled marketing buzz around the new Beetle.
Volkswagen also rose the most of any brand in the U.S. market in J.D. Power's recently released Sales Satisfaction Index. In fact, through November of this year, VW already had sold 292,000 vehicles in the United States, well on its way to its goal of 300,000 sales for the full year, up from 257,000 for all of 2010. On the other hand, Volkswagen was selling more than 350,000 vehicles a year in the American market as recently as a decade ago, before a long swoon.
"We're looking to slightly exceed our goal of 300,000 units for the year," Jonathan Browning, CEO of VW of America, told auto reporters early this month. "l don't want to stop when we get to 300,000 sales in December. We're on track with [the parent company's] plan and very much focused on putting the foundations in place that allow our [U.S.] growth to occur in a sustainable way.
"We're not talking about just one month or one quarter but about the volume and financial strength of the business for the long term, and the customer-experience perspective."
Still, Browning's superiors in Germany surely wouldn't disdain assuming the global sales crown early — maybe even this year.