It is time to prepare because if the managing director of Volkswagen Middle East has got anything to do with it there are going to be a lot more German cars on our roads over the next 12 months.
The manufacturer’s upcoming launches, Hand-Dieter Keller predicts, are going to mark a turning point locally for the company. With a sports car and compact four-wheel drive just months away from docking on our shores, VW is gearing up for a bumper year, which they predict will see sales rise from the current 9,000 to 20,000 cars a year.
It is quite an ambition, but Keller does not believe it is out of their reach, especially given that Volkswagen Passenger Cars set a new record last year with 3.66 million sold worldwide, which represents an increase of 7.8 per cent.
“We have new cars coming out this year; the Tiguan 4x4, which will be here in May, and Sirocco, Passat CC and Golf 6 will all be here by the end of the year or early next year, which will help us a lot,” he says.
They, unlike some other manufacturers, also sell their full range of models here, meaning the customer is not missing out. VW has to make slight adjustments due to the climate, but these are not out of the ordinary and customers have responded favourably with 28 per cent of VW’s worldwide sales coming from the Middle East.
“We have three types of cars – the EU package, hot climate and cold climate – so the Middle East doesn’t need any extra changes, except certain stipulations such as putting a fire extinguisher under the front passenger seat, which all manufacturers have to do by law,” says Keller.
Volkswagen and Audi both come under the same umbrella, but company executives insist they have their own character. While Audi has Seat and Lamborghini under it, Volkswagen has Skoda, Bentley and Bugatti.
The group has worked hard over the last 15 years to get the brand back on track. Even before the Golf Mark III market a blip in its most famous model’s history, VW was in trouble. Keller puts this down to the worldwide recession of the late 1980s and early 1990s but some effects took many years to overcome.
The arrival this year of Sirocco is one such example. It, like all other models, started as a concept car, but took 10 years to come to fruition because executives were trying to re-build the brand and entice customers to invest in one of their cars, but Keller does not believe the current concepts it has will take so long.
They won’t all become road vehicles, but if any of them do they will certainly add a greater sports image to VW.VW arrived in the Middle East in the mid-1950s, bringing with it the eponymous Beetle.
However, it was not until 2005 that a regional office was established in Dubai. Since then it has gradually introduced different models until its full fleet of 10 models were on sale, which will rise further this year, according to the official.
But Keller believes what really sets VW apart is the range of products on offer. Unlike other brands, VW offers a full options range on all vehicles.
Although they admit it could take a while for your new car to arrive, customers can pick and choose from the same list that is available in its native Germany to get the exact car they want. “For example, if you want a green car and it isn’t in stock here, you can have it. We’ll put the order in but shipping it may take time,” the MD admits.
A new marketing strategy has also been put in place this year with the company introducing a new tagline – Das Auto – across the board. Meaning simply “the car”, Das Auto, it is hoped, will lure people away from their preferred manufacturer and into the hands of VW as they come on board with the new image.
“Because Das Auto is much shorter it is a strong image that says a lot about VW in a compact way,” says Keller.He is also hoping this will prove the key to his future growth plans. With every country in the GCC cited as an important market for VW, Keller is hoping that potential customers will tap into the Das Auto ethos.
While the UAE and Saudi Arabia have a larger customer base, VW has been particularly successful in Syria where in just a few years they have seen sales rise from 250 vehicles a year to 10,000 in 2007. The spanner in the works, so to speak, is Lebanon, but Keller is hoping the future will be bright there too in the near future.
“We hope the war in Lebanon will be over soon because we see that as another market to improve on,” he says.One market that has been in full swing for some 25 years now is China and with the upcoming Beijing Olympic Games, VW saw it as the perfect event to get involved with.
As part of the deal supporting the Organisation Committee, the VW Group will provide them with a fleet of 6,000 vehicles, of which 4,350 will be Volkswagens, 1,000 Audis and 650 Skodas. With China being the most important Asian market, the opportunity will not only provide great domestic exposure, but will be a valuable marketing tool too.
“We were the first brand to go to China and now we’re the market leader there and close to the Chinese people,” says Keller on the decision to get involved. And no doubt it will also help their ambitious plans to meet their target of 10 million annual car sales by 2018. But with 6.2 million cars sold worldwide in 2007, they have a long way to go in 10 years.
PROFILE: Hans-Dieter Kellerl, Managing Director, VW Middle East
Hans-Dieter Keller has spent 18 years working for Volkswagen AG in different parts of the world. Prior to joining the Middle East operations a year ago, Keller headed VW Russia for two years.
He was regional manager for VW covering the South German region between 1994 and 2005, and the general manager of Audi Centrum from 1989 to 1994.
Volkswagen – No limits
Although Volkswagen Middle East’s Managing Director Hans-Dieter Keller will not reveal details about upcoming customer events, he did hint that one is in the pipeline later this year.
The company puts on regular events for their customers around the world, with the last one in the Middle East being held at the Bahrain International Circuit last December. Emirates Business went along and realised that if the next one is anything like it, then it is an experience not to be missed.
The No Limits event allows you to pretend you are Lewis Hamilton or Fernando Alonso – even if it is just for a day. Speed junkies will be in heaven for the first part of the one-day event, which sees drivers receive expert guidance in speed, performance and off-road driving, as they get behind the wheel of a Golf GTI or R32 to drive on the hallowed Grand Prix track.
VW gears up for local sales drive