VW Reboot: An onslaught of new cars and improved customer service

Written by: The Globe and Mail – September 29, 2016


In the showroom of Canada’s newest Volkswagen dealership, OpenRoad VW in Burnaby, B.C., sits a special car: a 1952 Volkswagen Beetle, one of the original shipment of cars delivered to Canada more than 60 years ago. The Beetle is a cultural touchstone for many Canadians; it defines an era. The clattery little air-cooled Bug defied its roots as a propaganda tool for the Nazis and its humble construction to become an unlikely icon.


This little car is why many people love Volkswagens. They buy their kids VW T-shirts, they get together for huge rallies and swap meets. Vancouver’s Great Canadian VW Weekend, which just celebrated its 25th year in 2016, is one such multiday event. Thousands of fans streamed downtown to talk about all things VeeDub.


It’s not just the air-cooled stuff either: Across Canada there are squadrons of Westfalia vagabonds, crowds of young kids in lowered GTIs and GLIs. If you judge VW’s health by its passion of its most ardent fans, things are fine. Sales results tell a different story.

If you look at Volkswagen sales so far this year, volume is down. In 2014, the last full year before the stop-sale was issued, TDI models comprised 21 per cent of all Volkswagen sales. Now that VW isn’t allowed to sell them, overall sales have dropped about 15 per cent. Jetta and Passat are slumping, but Golf sales are steady, year-to-date. Volkswagen Canada seems to be stanching the bleeding.

To assist in binding up the wounds, Volkswagen Canada is preparing a new onslaught of product over the next 16 months. First will be the all-wheel-drive versions of the Sportwagen, including the new higher-riding Alltrack trim. Next will be a new seven-passenger SUV, larger even than the Touareg. By late summer next year, there will be a larger version of the popular Tiguan, also available with seven seats.

The launch of the Alltrack also spearheads new technology such as the increasing availability of all-wheel drive in the Golf range. VW’s incoming 1.5-litre gasoline turbocharged engine, which may show up soon in the Jetta, should provide a 10-per-cent boost in fuel economy over the current 1.4-litre engine, suggesting that VW diesel products aren’t coming back to North America.


From popular niche products such as the Golf R and Alltrack to mainstream crossovers, VW is readying itself for a comeback. The diesel-emissions scandal hurt the brand immediately, tarnishing claims of German engineering superiority and casting a sooty pall over the TDI badge. However, consumer memory seems short. Thanks to incentives, VW even saw a brief increase in sales in 2015.

Public perception still seems to be that VW represents a semi-premium brand, a stepping stone on the way to buying a BMW or Mercedes. Selling the Alltrack as a heavily optioned single trim represents VW Canada’s bet that its fans aren’t so much cross-shopping against mainstream brands as they are looking for a slightly less-expensive Audi.

To that end, some dealerships are attempting to add a more premium feel to the ownership experience.

“It’s the buying process we’re looking at refining,” says Ben Lovie, OpenRoad VW’s general manager. “The industry is changing, but it’s a little slow.”


There are other subtle courtesies, too, including the free loan of bike racks and cargo carriers with its new cars. Pop in if you have a weekend away planned and they’ll help you install it. They’ll also wash any Volkswagen for free. Perhaps most impressively, they’ll even valet-service your car, picking it up and dropping it back off at your work. The servicing costs are clearly displayed at the service counter and the first two years of service are covered at no cost.

While Volkswagen Canada doesn’t force individual franchises to adopt similar practices, many dealers are adapting. Toronto has a half-dozen VW dealerships within easy driving distance of the downtown core: the smart ones are already offering valet service and other side-benefits to VW ownership.

Consider Tesla for a moment. As a company, it sells both a product and an experience. The Model S is impressive, but it’s not without quality issues and reliability problems. Tesla keeps on top of this with excellent customer service, turning its buyers into fans. This is what some VW dealers are doing for the brand.

Fans of the way Volkswagens drive have been waiting for seven-seater options for a while, so both the as-yet-unnamed new three-row crossover and the bigger Tiguan should prove popular. Further, focusing on small car and crossover sales is simply following the market, and should prove successful.

But what will really make the difference for Volkswagen is the way its front-line people handle customers enticed in by new product such as the outdoorsy Alltrack wagon. If a Volkswagen dealership can follow through with customer expectations for the buying and servicing experience, then VW can rely on finding homes for the new cars it has in the pipeline.


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Top three cars from Paris Motor Show 2016

Paris Motor Show 2016 entrance
The Mondial de l’Automobile Paris Motor Show 2016 runs now until Oct. 16. 

Sadly, in Canada, we won’t be seeing any of the Peugeots or Renaults making their debut at the Paris Motor Show on local roads anytime soon. But there were many brands, recognizable to any North American, also unveiling some really cool vehicles and concepts at the event, some which may even eventually make it to our shores. The following are three of our favourites.

Volkswagen I.D. concept front

Volkswagen I.D. electric concept

VW is showcasing its new MEB compact electric vehicle design language with the I.D. concept. Expected to become a reality by 2020, the highly automated, zero-emissions four-door is powered by a 168-horsepower electric motor boasting a range of up to 600 kilometres on a single battery charge.

Volkswagen I.D. concept sliding doors

Some interesting features include rear-swivelling backdoors, a trunklid that extends across the full-length of the car and LED headlights made to resemble a human eye, capable of responding to the environment. The interior is completely digitized, anchored by a retractable steering wheel. The wheel disappears when the driver touches the centre Volkswagen logo activating autonomous driving mode.

Audi RS 3 sedan front

Audi RS 3 sedan

For the first time in the brand’s history, the Audi RS emblem is attached to a compact sedan. Immediately recognizable by its signature 3-D honeycomb mesh grille bearing a Quattro logo on the bottom half, the RS 3 has a 20 millimetre-wider front track and rear wheels spaced 14 mm further apart than the standard A3.

Audi RS 3 sedan side

A new 2.5-litre TFSI (Turbocharged Fuel Stratified Injection) engine drives the car, and at 400 hp it makes 33 more than the outgoing model. Mated to a S tronic seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, the dash from 0 to 100 km/h takes only 4.1 seconds.

Honda Civic Type-R front

Honda Civic Type-R prototype

Fans of Honda, Japanese sports cars or just automobiles in general have been waiting for the ultra-high-performance Type-R version of the latest Civic with bated breath.

Honda Civic Type-R rear

Many details on the car that hint at its racy heritage, like bulging body panels, winged splitter mounted underneath the front bumper, red accents and badging, smoked headlamp housings, piano-black 20-inch wheels and a towering rear trunk spoiler. More information should be available when the CTR makes its North American debut at the SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) show in Las Vegas next month.

Top vehicles for students going back to school

2017 Hyundai Elantra front
The 2017 Hyundai Elantra has been completely redesigned and still offers a lot of value for the dollar. Photo by Benjamin Yong.

Is it really back to school already? Well not quite yet, but September will be here in the blink of an eye. If a vehicle is on your school supplies shopping list, OpenRoad Auto Group is here to help with a list of the most affordable vehicles for students for 2016.

2016 Volkswagen Jetta front back

2016 Volkswagen Jetta

Starting at $15,995, the 2016 VW Jetta is the most affordable model in the German automaker’s lineup and is equipped with a zippy turbocharged 150-horsepower engine. A five-speed manual gearbox is standard, or add an extra $1,400 for a six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan white

2016 Honda Civic Sedan

Completely redesigned, the legendary Honda Civic enters its 10th generation sportier in both appearance and performance. The interior has be also been reworked to provide lots of storage space for things like phones, wallets and cups. Also offered in a coupe body style, the four-door (starting MSRP $16,155) is the better buy for those on a budget. 

2016 Toyota Corolla

2016 Toyota Corolla

Toyota Corollas have been the go-to-car for many students for five decades now, and not much has changed in that regard. The current compact sedan is still great on gas — 8.4 L/100 km in the city, 6.4 on the highway — and has enough interior room for five adults to sit comfortably thanks to the flat floor in the rear. Prices start at $15,995.

2017 Hyundai Elantra rear

2017 Hyundai Elantra

All new for this year, the reimagined Elantra is drop dead gorgeous with a smart looking front end anchored by a wide-mouth grille and a set of sleek headlamps. As always, even the base model ($15,999) is chock full of features like heated front seats that will come in handy during those brisk fall morning drives to class. The car is powered by a 2.0-litre motor producing 147 horsepower and 132-lb-ft of torque.

OpenRoad Auto Group used cars

Pre-owned vehicles

In the market for a used car? OpenRoad has hundreds of pre-owned vehicles available for sale  — have a look on the website.