Gasoline prices are averaging less than $2.50 now in America, which has consequently fueled a rise in truck and SUV sales. But that doesn't mean small cars are out. Actually, the segment only saw a rather insignificant two percent drop in sales last month. So tell me: when is Volkswagen going to get in on this?
After all, it's not like VW has to go through extreme lengths to give America a good small car. They already make one and it's called the Polo (pictured above). But VW has said time and again it isn't going to bring it over here, not now or in the future.
For those of you not in the know, the Polo is Volkswagen's subcompact hatchback that slots in below the Golf. Sold almost everywhere except North America, the Polo competes against such cars as the European Ford Fiesta and the Mazda 2. It comes as either a three-door or five-door hatchback, as well as a sedan and even a hip, small-crossovery thing named the CrossPolo.
In markets where the Polo is sold, the little VW is lauded for its exceptional quality and stellar value. Top Gear's Richard Hammond drove a lowly three-cylinder model last year, actually saying it was "sophisticated and a surprising giggle to drive."
For those of you in the know, you already know that VW makes a hot GTI version of the Polo. But what you may not know is that the Polo GTI is roughly the same size as VW's original hot hatch: the 1976 Golf GTI. It's also just as powerful as the Golf GTI from 10 years ago.
In fact, one could argue the Polo GTI does a far better job of carrying on the spirit of the original Golf GTI — read: cheap, fast, practical and reliable fun — than the new Golf GTI does. And while reviewers have pointed out the Polo GTI isn't quite as hardcore as its nearest rival, the Ford Fiesta ST, that may not necessarily be a bad thing. Especially if you're a buyer legitimately concerned that the Fiesta ST might be too hardcore to live with long-term.
So now that we know what the VW Polo is and why it's awesome, we have to figure out why Volkswagen is depriving us of it Stateside.
Could it be that the US market simply doesn't support subcompact cars, especially with cheap fuel? Nope. Again, even with rising SUV and truck sales and cheap fuel, subcompact car sales are far from anything resembling a complete loss. Perhaps even more surprising is the Nissan Versa — a car that's always mediocre unless it's parked next to a Mitsubishi Mirage — saw sales gains last month.
So much for us Americans being a bunch of forgetful fatasses then. And besides, the white-hot popularity of subcompact crossovers like the Nissan Juke and Buick Encore is just as responsible as cheap fuel for the recent upswing in SUV sales. By the way, the subcompact crossover segment is also one VW doesn't compete in, but they could if they brought in the CrossPolo I mentioned earlier to the US.
It isn't because of our market then. What else could it be?
Is it cost? Again, no. A reasonably-equipped Polo three-door costs roughly $19,000USD in its home market of Germany. And while that is more expensive than a similar Fiesta is here, our friends South of the Border can also buy a new Polo sedan — it's called the Vento there, and built in India to drive the cost further down — with decent kit for less than $14,000USD. If VW wanted to sell the Polo here at a competitive price, they could just ship it in from India.
So if the price and our market can't be blamed, what can? Well I have a simple answer: it's Volkswagen.
Volkswagen initially built its reputation in America on cheap, cheerful and well-built cars like the original Beetle and the Kombi minibus. And VW was OK with that. Everyone was OK with that. That is, until the day VW realized it no longer wished to be seen as the everyman's European brand in the US.
So VW set off on a quest for the same cachet as Mercedes and BMW. It started selling well-built, yet totally irrelevant luxury models like the Touareg and the Phaeton. Then the Passat CC and Eos followed. While these might have all been critically approved cars, none of them fit VW's image with buyers. And for VW, which has struggled to hit it really big in America since the 90s, that wasn't good news.
Since then, VW has been trying to correct that mistake, while foolheartedly hanging on to hope it's luxury ambitions will still work out in the end. They introduced a cheaply made Passat and Jetta, which haven't exactly reconnected the brand with buyers. And then comes talk they'll bring the Phaeton back to the U.S. soon.
Volkswagen, here's a handy piece of advice for you: be true to yourselves. You made a name for yourselves by selling well-made, affordable cars. Especially small ones. Small cars like the Polo. Get back to basics and bring it over here. You can't afford not to.