When It Comes to Tardy SUV Launches, at Least Volkswagen Knows It Has a Problem

“I don’t know why we are late.”
– Frank Welsch, head of development for Volkswagen, ahead of T-Roc launch

It’s been less than one week since TTAC’s B&B had its collective say on the subject of Volkswagen’s SUV delays. But in an interview with Autocar, Volkswagen’s head of development, Frank Welsch, certainly isn’t denying the problem.

“I don’t know why we are late,” Welsch says, speaking not only of utility vehicles such as the T-Roc, but Euro-MPVs as well. “With the Touran we were late, the Sharan we were late. I cannot explain why, here we are.”

“I’m happy to have this car now.”

As if stepping out of a rehab program for automakers addicted to ignoring obvious trends, Volkswagen has finally completed the first step: recognizing the problem. The T-Roc will be unveiled this afternoon, August 23, 2017, years after the Nissan Juke, Mini Countryman, Subaru Crosstrek, Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, Jeep Renegade, Honda HR-V, and Mazda CX-3 took control of the subcompact crossover segment.

Volkswagen has a history of arriving very late to SUV festivities. One segment above the T-Roc, the first-generation Volkswagen Tiguan arrived in the U.S. in 2008, a dozen years after the Toyota RAV4, 11 years after the Honda CR-V, eight years after the slow-to-arrive Ford Escape, and even slightly behind the Nissan Rogue.

Those four vehicles dominate America’s compact crossover category in which the Volkswagen Tiguan struggles to earn market share, and it’s no wonder. 3.7 million RAV4s, CR-Vs, Escapes, and Rogues were sold in America before the Volkswagen Tiguan arrived, not to mention a huge number of other small utility vehicles.

The Volkswagen Touareg was no early adopter, either, not landing until 2003 and doing so with a premium price tag/mainstream badge combination that dramatically reduced demand. The Touareg has been discontinued in the U.S. market, effectively replaced by the Volkswagen Atlas. Life won’t be easy for the much more affordable, three-row Atlas, which landed in America in May 2017, by which point Toyota had already sold 2 million Highlanders in the U.S., not to mention millions of Ford Explorers, Honda Pilots, Nissan Pathfinders, and Chevrolet Traverses, among numerous others.

Now it’s the Volkswagen T-Roc’s turn to face Volkswagen’s forced uphill battle. Subcompact crossovers generated more than 1.1 million U.S. sales in 2014, 2015, and 2016; another 318,000 in the first seven months of 2017. If any of those buyers became brand loyalists, they won’t be returning to the Volkswagen dealer in order to purchase or lease a VW-badged vehicle.

Volkswagen wasn’t present for the birth and early years of the category. Early days are formative days. But as Old Man Luedecke says, These early days, well, they don’t last.

[Image: Volkswagen]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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