Ask any American who invented the automobile, and you'll probably get Henry Ford as your answer 8 times out of 10. Now any true Jalop worth their salt knows that it was Karl Benz, a German, who was the actual inventor of the car. Germans have always seemed to get what makes cars tick in all the right ways, and when they wanted to tackle the concept of mass production of cars for everyone that Henry Ford had created, Volkswagen was born. Not always the most prestigious of automakers, it nevertheless occupies a near premium segment of the market in most American's minds, the yuppie Toyota if you will. Volkswagen though is not satisfied with that position. They want to be Toyota. They want to be GM. They want to be at the top of the world no matter what it takes.
In the past 20 years VW's holdings have expanded several times over. We live in a world where the Bugatti in the fast lane and the MAN truck it passed 2 seconds ago are owned by the same company that Hitler backed. In an ironic twist even Porsche, whose founder was responsible for the creation of the Beetle, found itself under VW rule in 2012 . It could be said then that Volkswagen has an almost zealous desire to rule the world, but in their quest for world domination have they forgotten some of the very reasons consumers buy German in the first place? Have they sat down in a modern Jetta and really taken the time to look at what they're offering?
The new Jetta has an MSRP just under $17,000, for that you can get the most basic of teutonic economy to cart you and your pals around. That accessible price comes at the cost of some interior choices with hard plastic, that used to be the scourge of American, Korean, Japanese, and other inferior cars, chief among the new and improved materials to be found in a modern VW. That's okay though, the layout still works, and indeed there are far worse places to be than in a new VW. There is one glaring exception to all this though, one I first noticed when I sat in a new GLI. Pushing the clutch in, I flicked the key out of the iconic switchblade fob ready to bring the car to life, but upon trying to start the car the key was met with the hard sounds of metal on cheap plastic. I looked down at the ignition and noticed that in it's still marked place was a flat piece of plastic that looked as if it had been thrown on at the last second. Just under the radio, sat a cheap little metal button that controlled the vital functions of starting and stopping the engine, I pushed in the clutch again and started car sans key.
It was a cheap system, looking more like an aftermarket installation at Pep Boys than what you would typically find in something with a German badge. Imagine my surprise then when just last week I sat in a brand-new Touareg TDI, a vehicle Volkswagen says is," Lavished with stylish details, thoughtful design…" Yet in this $50,000 premium SUV, one with "thoughtful design," Pep Boys was present again. This isn't thoughtful design, it's not a stylish detail either. It's incompetence, or worse yet willful negligence.
Volkswagen may well be on pace to dominate global car sales, but at what cost? In their haste to compete they've betrayed the very factors that made their cars different and unique in the first place. Maybe I'm wrong though, and this is just an overreaction on my part. Perhaps these are just aberrations that will correct themselves in time, but when the keyless start in a Kia is presented better than in your top of the line model? Something's gone awry.