THINGS are changing at Volkswagen – and fast. Stung by the emissions crisis of 2015 and seeing much of the company’s senior management change, 2016 was all about finding a way forward. And 2017 will see the first signs of the changes the new team in charge is making, not only to the company and its products, but also the way it does business. According to VW’s new board member with responsibility for product development, Dr Frank Welsch, it’s all about “cars, cars, cars”.
Fie told us: “We have lots of exciting new cars coming and that’s the best way to react to what has happened in the past.” But VW has also discovered something it has kept hidden in the past – emotion. And Dr Welsch is promising us cars that appeal to the heart more, but still with the quality and depth of engineering that has been the company’s hallmark for generations. Fie said: “We are still Volkswagen, but we want people to be more excited about our cars; we want to appeal to younger people. But with the qualities that our customers love.”
Part of the new wind sweeping through the company is a greater openness to talk about new products – so much so that Auto Express was invited to South Africa in early December to join VW’s management and engineering teams in hot-weather testing of five new models all due to debut in 2017. At this time of year, the climate in South Africa is a world away from the cold of VW’s testing base at the Nurburgring race circuit in Germany, where it uses the track and surrounding roads to develop its cars.
With thermometers touching 40 degrees Celsius, our secret location within the Kalahari desert was an ideal place for VW to push its cars to the extreme. “We’re testing things like air-conditioning systems to see how they react under load, as well as the car’s cooling systems and dynamics,” Dr Welsch told us. “We have a team of engineers based down here and members of the management team join them for these assessments.” And we joined in, too, testing the recently announced replacement for the VW CC, the Arteon, as well as the extended-wheelbase, seven-seat version of the Tiguan – called Tiguan Allspace – and the hot version of the up!, which will proudly wear the legendary GTI badge.
There were two other all-new cars we put through their paces, too, also to be launched in 2017-but you’ll have to wait until next year to hear more about them. We drove all five cars on a variety of South African roads, plus gravel tracks for the SUVs, as temperatures soared, leaving even the local ostriches searching for shade.