Volkswagen turns to Asia

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VOLKSWAGEN’s 2013 return to the Philippines, under the automobile business of Ayala Corporation, relied heavily on the cheerful, nostalgia-filled vibe of the Beetle — at the brand’s launch program Ayala Corp. President and COO Fernando Zobel wheeled out a restored vintage Beetle on stage and parked it alongside the car’s modern spawn. In contrast, Volkswagen Philippines’ lineup for 2018, presented on May 18 by Mr. Zobel and other company officials, was largely composed of models intended for China rather than for a global audience (like the Beetle had always been).

Brought out this time were the Volkswagen Santana MPI MT, Lavida 230 TSi DSG, Tiguan 280 TSi DSG and Lamando 280 TSi DSG, as well as the GTS variant of the Santana. Of the five, now available in Volkswagen stores are the Santana MPI, Lavida and Tiguan. The Santana GTS and Lamando are set to be sold in November.

The new models, Volkswagen Philippines said in a statement, will “redefine how the… marque will develop and expand its local presence.” Because three of these models are sedans and one a subcompact hatchback — all of which aimed at different sets of consumers — it is expected that the Volkswagen Polo and Jetta will be eased out of the current local lineup. Incidentally, both the Polo and Jetta are global models.

David Powels, first vice-president of Shanghai Volkswagen, in his speech during the launch program said the newly introduced models are all “tailor-made” for Asians, crediting these as the “key pillars” for Volkswagen’s success in the region. The executive noted the Santana has been an “iconic entry model” in China for over 30 years, and that the car was among the top 10 best-sellers in the country last year.

The Lavida, Mr. Powels continued, has topped its segment in the last five years and in 2017 was the second best-selling vehicle in China, notching up more than 450,000 deliveries. Tiguan variants, meanwhile, last year found 330,000 buyers in China — the best results in the vehicle’s segment.

“Being responsible for the sales of these models in China, I know… how great their appeal is to our customers,” Mr. Powels said.

Staying true to its “people’s car” tag, Volkswagen is relying on an entry-level model — the Santana — to head its refreshed range in the Philippines. The Santana, powered by an 89-hp, 132-Nm 1.4-liter MPI gasoline engine that’s matched to a five-speed manual transmission, is positioned to compete against mainstream models via a P686,000 sticker price, which is only P18,000 more expensive than an identically-equipped Toyota Vios 1.3 J MT. For its part, the Santana GTS variant, which differs from the “regular” Santana by having a five-door hatchback cut, a six-speed automatic transmission and some sporty features, is seen to take on top-spec hatchback models.

A rung up Volkswagen’s new sedan range is the Lavida, which comes with a 128-hp, 225-Nm 1.4-liter Turbocharged Stratified Injection (TSI) gasoline engine and a seven-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) transmission — a combination used not only in numerous Volkswagen models but also in other brands that belong to the Volkswagen Group, notably Audi, Skoda and Seat. Among the premium features of the Lavida are leather seats, automatic climate control, a sunroof, electronic differential lock and push-button ignition start/stop. The car is priced from P1.171 million.

The slightly longer and more rakish Lamando is also propelled by a 1.4-liter TSI engine with a seven-speed DSG. Volkswagen has not announced prices for the Lamando (and Santana GTS), but like the Santana and Lavida, the Lamando is built by Shanghai Volkswagen, or the SAIC Vokswagen Automotive Company, Ltd., so the car is expected to be as reasonably priced.

Meanwhile, the arrival of the Tiguan 280 results in Volkswagen Philippines having two Tiguan models — the company has been selling the current-generation Tiguan 1.4 TSi DSG Comfortline since 2017. The newly announced Tiguan 280 is a refreshed version of the previous-generation model, and is also produced by Shanghai Volkswagen. It is equipped with a 147-hp, 250-Nm 1.4-liter TSi engine, a six-speed DSG, “Vienna” leather seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, a panoramic sunroof, an eight-speaker audio, and a 12-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, among other features. Significantly, the Tiguan 280 is P611,000 cheaper than the current-gen Tiguan; the former sells for P1.648 million while the latter goes for P2.259 million.

The introduction of the Santana, Lavida and Tiguan 280 brings to an even dozen Volkswagen’s lineup in the Philippines. Prices of the models now range between P3 million (or more, depending on specifications) for the Crafter full-size van and P686,000 for the Santana.

Arthur R. Tan, president and CEO of AC Industrials, the automobile business unit of Ayala Corp., during the launch program said the “new models would undoubtedly add to the growing heritage of the Volkswagen brand in the Philippines.” The executive cited the “unique, cross-generational relationship between Volkswagen and the Filipino,” and said the arrival of the latest products would help Volkswagen to remain an “integral part of the Filipino culture.”

Partly ensuring this, according to the brand, is a comprehensive warranty coverage for Volkswagen vehicles. The newly introduced models, Volkswagen Philippines said, are not only backed by the usual three-year/100,000-kilometer general warranty, but also covered (also for three years) by a warranty for their paint and main steel body structures. The periodic maintenance service schedule for the latest models is also set for only once a year (or every 10,000 kilometers, whichever comes first). This, the company said, makes owning any of them more convenient and cost-efficient.

Just as the Beetle was. — Brian M. Afuang