The incoming chairman of Volkswagen's dealer council plans to keep the pressure on the factory as dealers prepare for a critical year.
Michael DiFeo, dealer principal at Linden Volkswagen in Roselle, N.J., says one of his top priorities is to hold VW accountable for promises made to dealers. Chief among them is a commitment to grow again in the U.S., where sales have fallen each year since 2013. They were down 7.6 percent in 2016.
"We want to grow," DiFeo said. "We need to make sure that, going forward, they don't start to go against that."
VW has key products on the way to help reverse its downward trend. The Atlas large crossover arrives in the spring, giving VW its first entry in the segment. A larger, redesigned Tiguan arrives in the summer along with greater availability thanks to its new assembly location in Mexico.
"The Atlas is the first time that we'll be in this large [crossover] segment," DiFeo said. "Getting the larger Tiguan is huge for us considering the growth of that segment. It's paramount."
Among the promises that DiFeo says he plans to press VW on is the pledge to cut product life cycles for VW's cars to five years from seven. The long life cycles have put VW at a disadvantage to Asian brands that refresh and redesign models more frequently.
Meanwhile, VW dealers will spend much of the next year playing host to hundreds of thousands of diesel owners selling their cars back to VW. DiFeo praised VW's handling of the program so far, saying the process is going "as smoothly as anyone could imagine."
The terms of VW's 2.0-liter diesel settlement with U.S. authorities restricts how dealership sales staff can approach customers coming to showrooms for a diesel buyback. Still, DiFeo said about 20 percent of customers he has seen so far are willing to buy another VW.