2014 Volkswagen Golf GTD, and the future of VW: Motoramic Drives
I spent two very weird, chilly days in June at the Autostadt, a fake German village that combines factory life, Legoland, and the set of Woody Allen’s "Sleeper," all embossed with the Volkswagen logo. As recently as 15 years ago, the Autostadt was a massive slag heap cowering in the shadow of four enormous red-brick smokestacks, which towered above the scene like Mount Doom. Now, it’s all shire-like mounds of grass and flowers and spaceship pavillions celebrating the various brands of the Volkswagen empire. It’s a great place to spend 15 minutes if you happen to be passing through Wolfsburg on the way to anywhere else.
At the center of the Autostadt sits a 20-story glass cylinder full of cars, which constantly spins as robots move the vehicles to awaiting customers. This is where Germans come to pick up their new transport, or, as a somewhat creepy tour guide told us, “to celebrate the unique joys of family life.” There’s a weird car museum that doesn’t, to VW’s credit, contain all company products, and a Lamborghini that emerges from a smoky cage every hour on the hour. In many ways, you could imagine this landscape functioning, even thriving, without humans.
But, for the moment, people still make and design the machines. Volkswagen wanted to be sure we knew that. Part of our Autostadt education involved a “deep dive” about the company’s new Modular Transverse (or, in the more awesome German, Modularer Querbanbasten) kit. As a PR guy who looked a lot like "Mad Men’s" Bob Benson told us, “it’s very essential that you understand the changes that the modular transverse kit represents.”
The 10-cent version: Across its six major brands, Volkswagen vehicles will henceforth share 60 percent of their DNA. VW has standardized the powertrains, the HVAC units, the axles and the steering system. Audis and Porsches will get different kits, but with the same assembly concept. Time was when cars like the Golf and the Polo were put together differently. But now, 26 plants worldwide will follow the process of the “MQB kit," which VW vows will take mass production to a new level.
German Bob Benson told us that consumers can now choose all the important things that distinguish cars from one another — engine, transmission, amenity packages and the like — and get a vehicle customized to their needs more cheaply. “We’d rather make a Golf that is available with any kind of engine,” he said. “No matter what the customer decides, we’ll always have work at the factory.”
There was a brief revolt among the press corps, as we asked, well, what about a recall? If there’s a defect in the DNA of one vehicle, don’t you have to call back millions? Bob demurred, not to our satisfaction, though he did say “no one has a glass ball,” which made us snigger. Also, when we asked if other manufacturers were adopting this assembly kit strategy, he said yes, he thinks that they are years behind, “but you can’t look into their drawers.”
The next day, we got to drive one of the first MQB cars, the new GTD, a diesel version of the Golf that will hit European roads in the summer of 2014. The new platform gives it a more “muscular” appearance, at least according to the highly objective company flacks we talked to, with a shorter overhang and a longer wheelbase. It’s a nifty little envelope, a peppy version of an economy car that has no idea it’s essentially a clone.