It’s no secret that Volkswagen is in the midst of a major sales crisis in North America. Despite being poised to overtake Toyota as the world’s largest automaker, the company is suffering from below-average profit margins worldwide, and it sits stalled as the 14th best-selling automaker in the U.S., the world’s second largest auto market.
After holding Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn personally responsible for the brand’s American sales woes, Volkswagen Auto Group CEO Ferdinand Piëch publicly tried to remove him from his post, only to be rebuffed by Volkswagen AG’s board of directors. In a shocking development, the board forced Piëch from his leadership role, ending his 50-plus year career at Volkswagen.
But in the midst of all this bad news from Stuttgart comes a surprising development: The fastest-selling car in America in April is a Volkswagen, and a station wagon at that.
According to Cars.com, Volkswagen’s Golf SportWagen sits on a dealer lot for just nine days before finding a buyer, making it the fastest-moving new model on sale today. In contrast, the BMW 650i XDrive convertible is America’s slowest-selling car, moldering on dealer lots an average of 180 days before finding a taker. With gas prices still relatively low, 18 of the 23 cars on the list were SUVS or crossovers, making the Volkswagen’s position atop the list that much more surprising.
Introduced for 2015 to replace the outgoing Jetta SportWagen, Volkswagen’s car-based people mover is an unlikely best-seller any way you look at it. Not that it’s a bad car — the Golf SportWagen offers 10% more cargo room than the outgoing Jetta-based model, and the Golf models won Motor Trend’s 2015 Car of the Year — but it’s rare that a modern station wagon with an available diesel engine and a five-speed manual transmission is considered anything other than a niche car.
Part of the SportWagon’s sales can probably be attributed to April being its first month on U.S. dealer lots, but there’s more to it than that. Station wagons are slowly but surely carving out a niche in the market, with sporty models from Audi, BMW, and Volvo erasing the memories of the mile-long people movers that were killed off by the minivan in the early ’90s. A number of high-profile concept cars over the past few years have only added to raise the profile of the station wagon, and brisk sales of the new car could mean good things for both Volkswagen and the station wagon segment overall.
Starting at $21,395, the SportWagen is a stylish and sporty car that’s perfect for young families that don’t want to sacrifice fun for functionality. Like the Golf hatchback, power comes from a 1.8-liter, 170-horsepower turbocharged inline four, but an optional 2.0-liter diesel engine offers 150 horsepower and a combined 35 miles per gallon. Transmission choices are a five-speed manual and Volkswagen’s smooth-shifting dual-clutch automatic.
Unfortunately, the Golf SportWagen probably won’t unseat the Ford F-150 as the best-selling vehicle in America anytime soon. But its April sales success is enough to show that there’s still a market out there for interesting, fun-to-drive cars. The car’s first month sales may not amount to much in the long run, but small victories like these are what Volkswagen desperately needs to help reestablish itself in the American market. With all the bad news coming out of Germany, this bit was probably welcomed with open arms. For those who value unique cars and variety on the roads, it should be welcomed in kind.