Volkswagen wants to feel ‘loved again’

Volkswagen wants to feel ‘loved again’

Brand image and software are key issues for new CEO Schäfer


New Volkswagen CEO Thomas Schäfer aims to “make VW a loved brand again” while also fixing the software problems that have plagued the launch of its ID range of electric vehicles and forging closer relationships with its sibling manufacturers. Schäfer, speaking to Autocar at the launch of the ID Buzz, outlined the three main goals he has set for the brand since assuming the CEO position on 1 July, just three months after he joined Volkswagen as chief operating officer from his previous role as Skoda CEO.

The first goal is to make the brand loved again. On this topic, Schäfer said: “VW is a phenomenal global brand, and it deserves to go back to where it used to be. It needs investment in this in products and in substance, and we’re on the way.

“We need to emotionalise the brand through the way we talk to the media and also in our advertising.

“Then we also need ‘lighthouse’ projects.” This last comment was in reference to the upcoming Trinity electric saloon, which will introduce Volkswagen to level-four autonomous tech. Schäfer’s second priority is to bring Volkswagen closer to Cupra, Seat, Skoda and Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles in his other role of head of group brand volume. He will look to streamline the development of shared parts and functions, cut costs and shorten development times across the board.

“This doesn’t mean the cars will be more similar,” said Schäfer. “It’s the opposite, in fact. We’ve spent too much time working by ourselves. We will make lean-machine rooms with brands coming together. We have huge potential.” His third priority is to “oversee the double transformation” occurring in the car industry, which is “not just from ICE to EV but then from EV to autonomous”. On this, Schäfer admitted that Volkswagen is “on a steep learning curve with the likes of over-the-air software [updates]”.

He continued: “It has been a challenge, but we’ve made good strides with new voice control and Travel Assist. We’re hopefully on the right track and can strengthen further.” Discussing the problems, which are understood to have cost Herbert Diess the CEO job, Schäfer said that Volkswagen now “has listened to customers and will listen more carefully”. “VW needs to be a leading brand in its segment, not just an also-there,” he said. “We have to be a leader.”

Software improvements will be seen in the ID Buzz, facelifted ID 3, new Tiguan and new Passat; and further developments will come later in the Aero B and next T-Cross. “We’re working on more simplicity, not just with larger screens but also with easier user experience and menus,” said Schäfer. “And then top quality. There’s no excuse [for this]. It remains our DNA and where we need to be and to play.”

Schäfer admitted that Volkswagen “hadn’t done enough” regarding the user experience, software and infotainment in its cars but promised this will now change. He said: “We’ve changed some topics, but it isn’t where it should be. It’s not what the tech guys can do, it’s what they should do. This is the number-one priority for the brand going forward.”

Despite the software problems, Schäfer said that the current 3.2 operating system in Volkswagen’s EVs is now “super-stable software” and marks a step change in this area. Work is also going into making larger batteries for EVs, but the greater focus is on raising charging speeds.

It’s not what the tech guys can do, it’s what they should do. This is the number-one priority going forward

Trinity saloon will introduce advanced self-driving tech. VW’s infotainment software has been roundly criticised. will become more closely linked to other group brands like Cupra. Autonomous driving will be the next big thing, believes VW.

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