Volkswagen sets hope on new Golf

Volkswagen, Europe’s biggest car maker, is hoping the new fifth version of its best-selling Golf model, unveiled on Monday, will steer the group back into the fast lane of the world’s car makers.

Originally launched in 1974 and sold more than 22-million times since then, the Golf currently accounts for a third of Volkswagen’s earnings and more than 15% of total group sales.

The car maker cannot therefore afford to make a mistake with the Golf 5, which the general public will get to see for the first time at the IAA Frankfurt motor show in September.

It will also provide a test for Volkswagen’s chairperson Bernd Pischetsrieder, who replaced Ferdinand Piech just over a year ago and is still in the process of earning his spurs at Germany’s biggest car maker.

Volkswagen has therefore set itself the target of selling 135 000 of the new Golf by the end of the year and “more than 600 000 next year”, Pischetsrieder said at the unveiling of the Golf 5 in the group’s home town of Wolfsburg, rechristened “Golfsburg” for the occasion.

In 2002, Volkswagen sold a total of 775 000 Golfs around the world.

However, the revamping brings no revolutions for a car that is seen as typifying German “solidity”.

“It’s a delicate onward development,” said Peter Brietsche of the market-research institute GfK.

“It looks like a Golf and it must look like one,” said Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer of the Center Automotiv Research in Gelsenkirchen, arguing that experience had shown that customers do not like too drastic changes.

But therein lay the rub for many.

“Frankly, the Golf 5 hasn’t evolved very much,” complained the Internet website Auto-Services-Web, which specialises in reviewing new models and providing advice to clients.

Volkswagen needs the new model to be a success if it wants to take over close rival models such as Peugeot’s 307 and Renault’s Megane, as well as upcoming new models from Opel or Ford.

“The Golf no longer dominates the sector as it used to,” said MM Warburg analyst Robert Pottmann.

Volkswagen is certainly feeling the pinch of the current sluggishness in demand for new cars, exacerbated by the surging euro and the cost of investment in new models.

In the first six months of 2003, Volkswagen’s net profit skidded 57,5% to €596-million on a 2,8% drop in sales to €42,8-billion.—Sapa-AFP

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