Volkswagen CEO Schafer on making VW “loved” again

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Brand boss Thomas Schafer is also targeting more halo cars and closer relationships with Seat, Skoda and Cupra.

New Volkswagen Passenger Cars CEO Thomas Schafer wants to “make VW a loved brand again”, while also fixing the software issues that have plagued the launch of Volkswagen’s ID range of electric cars and forging closer relationships with sibling brands Seat, Skoda and Cupra.

Schafer, speaking to Automotive Daily Network partner Autocar at the launch of the new Volkswagen ID Buzz to Car of the Year jurors, outlined the three main goals he has set the brand since he took up the CEO position on 1 July, just three months after joining VW as COO from his previous position as Skoda CEO.

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The first goal is the desire to make the brand loved again. On this topic, Schafer said: “VW is a phenomenal global brand and it deserves to go back to where it used to be. It needs investment in this in products and in substance, and we’re on the way.

“We need to emotionalise the brand, through the way we talk to the media and also in our advertising.”

He added: “We also need ‘lighthouse’ projects”, in reference to the upcoming Trinity electric sedan that will bring level four autonomous technology to VW for the first time.

Schafer’s second priority is to bring VW closer to Seat, Cupra, Skoda and Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles in his other role of head of group brand volume. In this position, he will look to streamline the development of common parts and functions, to reduce costs and shorten development times across the board.

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“This doesn’t mean the cars will be more similar,” said Schafer. “It’s the opposite, in fact. We have spent too much time working by ourselves. We will make lean machine rooms with brands coming together. We have huge potential.”

His third priority is to “oversee the double transformation” occurring in the industry, which is “not just from ICE to EV but then from EV to autonomous”.

On this, Schafer admitted VW is “on a steep learning curve with the likes of over-the-air software. It’s been a challenge, but we have made good strides with new voice control and travel assist. We’re hopefully on the right track and can strengthen further.”
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Discussing the software issues – problems that were ultimately understood to have recently cost then VW Group CEO Herbert Diess his job – Schafer said VW now “have listened to customers, and will listen more carefully”.

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He added: “VW needs to be a leading brand in its segment, not just an also-there. We have to be a leader.”

These software improvements will be seen in the ID Buzz and the upcoming Volkswagen ID 3 facelift, new Volkswagen Tiguan and new Volkswagen Passat, with further developments to come on the Volkswagen Aero B and next-generation Volkswagen T-Cross in the future.

“We are working on more simplicity, not just with larger screens but with easier user experience and menus. And then top quality. There is no excuse [for this]. It remains our DNA, and where we need to be and to play.”

Schafer admitted VW had “not done enough” for the user experience of its cars and the software and infotainment systems, but this will change. “In VW, we have changed some topics but it is not where it should be. It is not what the tech guys can do: it is what they should do. This is the number one priority for the brand going forward.”

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Despite the software problems, Schafer said the current 3.2 operating system in VW’s EVs is now “super-stable software” and marked a step change in this area. “It feels better now and where it should have been,” he added.

Current development goes up to a 3.4 version, but the firm has no plans to rip it up and start again because it wouldn’t make sense to do so, as it would require each car to be re-homologated.

However, “in this rush to get stabilised and customer friendly, the latter part of this has been on the back burner, and [we] need to get this [improving customer friendliness] into shape now”, said Schafer.

Work is also ongoing to make larger batteries for EVs models, but the greater focus was instead on improving charging speeds.

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