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Geneva 2016: Volkswagen in austere mode

I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to travel to the Geneva Auto Show six times over the last near decade and a half and I must confess that it is my all-time favourite show. 

In half of those trips, I was a guest of Volkswagen. As such, I was lucky enough to attend Group Night, in other words, a mega party thrown by the entire Volkswagen Auto Group (VAG, which also includes Bentley, Skoda, Lamborghini, Audi, Porsche, and a few others) where food, drinks, special guests, and avant-premieres were the norm. 

These evenings served as a barometer of the past year and as a window into the one to come. Up until six months ago, the news was always good. 

Cutting some costs
This year, there was no VAG Group Night where anyone with a pulse were allowed to attend and have a good time. Only a select few journalists and other top-brass media were invited. 

On the topic of invitations, six or seven members of the Canadian automotive press are generally summoned to the auto show by VW (a few more with Audi and the same with Porsche). However, only three of us made the trip this year with Volkswagen. 

What’s more, VW is well known for their media lounge at their booth. Perhaps an explanation is required: At most European car shows, larger manufacturers have, as part of their booth, a media/VIP lounge replete with food and drinks. Typically, the size of the lounge is proportional to the OEM’s position on the sales chart. While VW used to offer the largest of the show floor, this year’s was actually one of the smallest. In fact, McLaren’s lounge rivaled it in square footage. 

Moving on
During the course of the press conference, VW acknowledged last fall’s “incident,” but their emphasis was obviously on the future, not the past. An unscripted stunt took place in the middle of their presentation of the up!. A person, apparently a known comedian, came up on stage with a wrench in one hand and a little black box sporting a sticker that read “cheat box” on it. He got as far as crouching under the front of the car with said tool and box. 

The man quickly was removed from the stage, but I can see the intended humour in the manoeuvre. Nothing was said once it was over, and the way it was dealt with is probably how VW would like #dieselgate to unfold. If I were a member of the board at Volkswagen, I wouldn’t hold my breath…

One thing is certain, though: The company is doing everything it can to look forward and leave the mistakes in the past, where they hope they will stay. If anything, the diesel incident forced a shuffling and freshening of those in power, hopefully aiding VW in thinking twice before attempting to cheat the system. 

The year to come
Admittedly, 2016 will be a difficult year for the mega carmaker, but as far as products are concerned, it’s full steam ahead with a number of utility vehicles expected in the next two years, along with a refreshed Golf, a new Jetta, and more. 

There will be bills to foot, fines to pay, but business will go on.