Across the country, civic groups are looking for unique and creative ways to reach prospective voters amidst the pandemic, which has disrupted the traditional means of voter registration and election participation. “People don’t vote every day, they vote twice a year – if that – so it’s really important for us to help them understand the rules, their options and how they can make their votes count,” said David Thornburgh, president of the Philadelphia-based Committee of Seventy, a nonpartisan, good government group founded in 1904. Enter the Committee of Seventy’s Vanagon Westfalia, a patriotically wrapped 1991 van that recently played a crucial role in Philadelphia’s recent primary election, where it helped collect over 5,000 mail-in ballots from local voters. Before measures to combat the coronavirus were put into place, Pennsylvania had already decided to give voters the ability to vote by mail in this year’s primary election. However, in the wake of the pandemic, the response from voters was overwhelming; over 1.8 million residents applied to vote via absentee ballot or by mail. To help ease the strain on the system, the city commissioners’ office reached out to Thornburgh to see whether the Committee of Seventy could put the Committee of Seventy’s Vanagon Westfalia to work publicizing the ballot drop-off locations. Thornburgh immediately said yes. “My thought was pretty simple: people would stop and spot this crazy red, white and blue van and think, well, this must be the right place to drop off my ballot,” Thornburgh says. A VW enthusiast, Thornburgh has owned multiple Volkswagens, including a 1985 Golf and two other “Westys” (a 1987 and 1988 model) before purchasing the Vanagon Westfalia in August 2016. “A Westfalia is a car that always invites a conversation. People just want to come and share their stories with you,” says Thornburgh. “And I love the driving experience. It’s like a Swiss Army knife on wheels – wherever you stop is home.” Originally painted a classic white, Thornburgh got his 1991 Westfalia wrapped in Wilmington, Del., in early March before pandemic lockdown measures began. He thought about getting the car wrapped– especially after his wife came up with its quippy nickname – and decided to pull the trigger ahead of the 2020 election. In addition to adding bright colors, he decorated the van with several of the committee’s ongoing campaigns and slogans, including hashtags promoting civic education and engaging messages like “Voters Wanted.” “We believe in the old-fashioned notion that democracy works better when more people are better informed and get involved at all levels of government,” Thornburgh says. In the three days leading up to the election, the van made 10 stops at different polling locations in Philadelphia. The team worked 12-hour days helping collect over 5,000 ballots that may not have been counted otherwise due to post office delays and an imminent deadline. Thornburgh says the Westfalia is the “perfect vehicle to promote local democracy, voting and community awareness” ahead of a busy 2020 election. “There’s something special about the Volkswagen brand that feels familiar and inviting,” he says. “Volkswagens have always felt like they’re part of our community.”
While America adjusts to the new normal of a world with masks and social distancing, the need for personal transportation remains – and for some, it’s stronger than ever. Yet buying a vehicle has long required in-person communication, often followed by a request to fill out a customer survey a few miles long. Over the past few months, Volkswagen has tackled both of those challenges with two new tools. Volkswagen of America and VW Credit have worked with CDK Global, Inc. to launch Sign Anywhere, a digital signature tool that’s among the first of its kind in the U.S. auto industry, allowing vehicle buyers to finish their financial paperwork with a participating dealer without having to visit the dealership. The other step is a new system of customer surveys that ditches a long list of multiple-choice questions for a few open-ended questions that gives customers the power to give detailed feedback and post their review to VW.com and the dealer’s website. The Sign Anywhere tool developed by CDK Global allows customers to remotely and securely digitally sign financial documents with their own computer or mobile device. While digital signatures are common in many industries, many laws and state regulations governing financial documents in vehicle buying have usually required in-person or “wet” signatures. Volkswagen began planning to roll out this tool two years ago, but the COVID-19 pandemic sped up the deployment, and more than 400 Volkswagen dealers now have access in states where laws allow it. “Customers are asking for flexibility and looking for peace of mind especially during this time, and Sign Anywhere helps provide that.” said Anthony Bandmann, President and CEO of VW Credit, Inc. “Planning to implement this technology began two years ago but since this pandemic took hold, we’ve accelerated our plan to make this a permanent tool for our dealers.” If you’ve ever bought a vehicle, you know that post-sale surveys are part of the process. Dealers and automakers use these surveys to gather feedback and tackle any customer problems. Over time, many such surveys have grown to be a long list of questions asking for numerical rankings, with many customers advised to give only perfect scores. That system often leads to a large percentage of surveys never being completed, said Erin Buhrmaster, Director of Customer Experience for Volkswagen of America, and was often cited as one of the pain points in the shopping process. The new online survey rolled out to Volkswagen dealers in late January and features far fewer questions and allows customers to describe their experiences without the barrier of a 1-10 ranking or multiple choice responses. At the end, customers are offered the chance to share their responses on VW.com and the dealer’s website. “We’re focusing more on getting a word-for-word experience from the customer,” Buhrmaster said. “That gives everyone more insight, whether for addressing an issue or going back and praising people who deserve recognition. We stopped chasing a numerical score and started listening to what people had to say.” And since the pandemic, the surveys have shown that the steps dealers took to handle a new set of challenges, especially at-home test drives and deliveries, have been well received. “Customers have really been overwhelmed at the meaningful ways dealers have responded,” Buhrmaster said. “We have a lot of comments along the lines of ‘this is the best car buying experience I’ve ever had.’”
After months of lockdown, everyone is itching to explore. As the weather warms up and states re-open, the American Automobile Association (AAA) predicts that 97% of summer travel in the United States will be done by car – totaling an estimated 683 million road trips from July to September. “Most people want to get away while trying to stay safe and distant from others. When you drive, you can travel at your own comfort level,” said Jeanette Casselano, Director of Public Relations at AAA. “You decide where you are going, what you are doing, and who you are with.” Casselano attributes this higher level of control as the motivation for people to hit the road. “Over the past several months, driving has become a preferred option than other forms of transportation. You just don’t have the same control over your environment when you are on a plane, train or bus.” However, travel is more than just a getaway this summer. The pandemic brings additional considerations for road-trippers as they try to stay as safe as possible. Here are five tips the can help minimize your risk while enjoying your summer vacation. Check local regulations. All 50 states have started the re-opening process, and each has a different approach and timeline. In advance of your trip, research the COVID-19 regulations for the states you are driving through and plan accordingly. Many update their guidelines regularly, so check for new information before your trip. Travel advisories may also impact your trip, as some states have announced road closures, updates to toll collection or closed food service at rest stops. Plan ahead. While spontaneity can be a fun aspect of road tripping, it is not safe to assume you can walk into any rest stop, hotel, campground, tourist destination or gas station. Many businesses are closed, and some that are open have limited capacity or additional safety requirements, such as face masks, gloves or screenings. Think through where you would like to make your stops – including gas and food – and research what is available in advance. Volkswagen’s Car-Net feature includes an in-vehicle Wi-Fi hotspot for passenger use for up to four compatible devices when you subscribe to a mobile data plan, so you can research and re-route on-the-go if necessary. 1 2 3 Maintain physical distance. Minimize the need for stops by packing an abundance of food, water and supplies. When you must be around others, wear a mask and keep your distance – even if that means waking up early to hike at off-hours, avoiding trips to the grocery store or waiting for a scenic viewpoint to clear out before snapping a photo. If one of your stops looks highly trafficked, be flexible and try to find a less-crowded alternative. Pack personal protective equipment and other supplies. Masks are legally required inside many commercial spaces – and recommended anytime you are around others – so make sure you have enough to last the duration of your vacation. Hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes are critical for gas and charging stations and other public facilities. A thermometer and health insurance card are also smart to have on hand in case you or a fellow traveler are not feeling well. There is no guarantee that rest stops will have these items in stock, so buy them in advance rather than waiting to purchase them on the way. Get your car ready. To help prevent mechanical issues, get your car inspected by a professional before setting out. If you have experience working with vehicles, you may also want to pack a small toolkit of essentials to address minor issues if they arise. To give added comfort to drivers for more serious issues, Volkswagen’s Car-Net Safe & Secure is a paid subscription service that allows drivers to access help when something does not go as planned.5 This includes emergency assistance, anti-theft alerts, automatic crash notifications and more. And do not forget other road-trip essentials, like a first-aid kit, portable cellphone charger, GPS and flashlight. 6 7 “As much as you can: prepare,” said Casselano. “We all want to be outside. We all want to be with our families and have new experiences. We just have to do a little more planning … this year.”
Forty years after it was last sold new, the original Volkswagen Beetle can still be found on American roads, a testament to its popularity and engineering. The same holds true for American race tracks, where an important part of the Beetle legacy has only grown more popular over the years. Since its start in the early 1960s, Formula Vee racing has offered one of the most competitive and affordable forms of open-wheel racing anywhere in the world. Developed by a group of independent dealers, the series has stayed mostly unchanged since the ‘60s, relying on engines, transmissions and suspension parts found in the 1963 Beetle, wrapped in a basic steel-tube frame with a fiberglass body. Formula Vees at Daytona, 1969 Stuffing an engine that made 40 horsepower in stock trim in a race car might sound like a formula for boredom. But much like the original Beetle itself, Formula Vee hews to a simple but effective working philosophy; if it ain’t broke, don’t re-engineer it. By keeping costs low and setting rules that strictly avoid the kind of mechanical rule-bending that much of motorsport embraces, Formula Vee offers wheel-to-wheel racing that rewards skill more than spending. Over the decades, Formula Vee has proven so popular that it was copied around the world. Many championship and top-league open-wheel racers traced their careers back through Formula Vee, and it remains one of the most popular classes in the Sports Car Club of America’s racing series. Andrew Whitston, SCCA’s 2019 national Formula Vee champion, was born into it; his father Ron Whitston has been racing and building Formula Vee cars for almost five decades. Andrew Whitston in his Formula Vee. Credit: SCCA “It’s road racing that somebody with a middle-class income can afford to do,” said Whitston, who’s been racing Formula Vee for 11 years. “There’s a lot of knowledge and a great community who want to help out. Most people are concerned about having good races on the track together, and that adds to the fun.” Buying an all-new Formula Vee car can run $15,00 to $20,000, but well-sorted used ones can be found for half that, and a beginner can rent a car and all the setup and expertise needed to get on track for about $2,000 a race. With a 1,025-pound minimum weight with driver and the four-speed Beetle transmission, the modern Formula Vee cars can hit 120 mph on track but are simple enough that a team can make repairs and improvements quickly. And once built, Formula Vee cars can remain competitive for decades, thanks to the consistent rules. This year’s Formula Vee races were delayed by the coronavirus but restarted a few weeks ago. Those races were a milestone for Whitston; not only was he racing against his father, but his two brothers also joined the Formula Vee class as well. “I’ve always enjoyed these years racing against my dad, and to have all four of us on track competing against each other is something really special,” he said. “These are the days I’ll remember when I get older.” Always obey local speed and traffic laws.
As much as people talk about “the new normal” of a pandemic, what such a state looks like exactly changes almost minute by minute. For automakers like Volkswagen, that can mean weighing a host of short and long-term factors, from helping customers who’ve suffered job losses to planning for an electric future. Reinhard Fischer’s job is to keep all these elements in mind. As senior vice president of strategy for the Volkswagen Group of America, Fischer helps plot the company’s course for whatever lies ahead. Here are his insights on how personal transportation has changed in the COVID era, and why electric vehicles make even more sense than ever. Reinhard Fischer How do you see the pandemic affecting the auto industry? For me, it all starts with understanding how the consumer views the car. With the COVID-19 pandemic, people are really recognizing the benefits of having a car. A private means of transportation that you don’t need to share with anybody – it can be your sanctuary. With these shifts in perception, there is an even greater focus on the car-buying and car-owning experience than there was before the pandemic. For example, customers are looking for contactless test drive and delivery experiences. In these times nobody wants a “stranger” in their car. New services, such as the digital tools that can allow consumers to interact with the brand and the dealer without contact, are gaining significant relevance for the consumer. We have also seen that the new digital world is coming soon. Offering customers the option to select their new VW, arrange a touch-free delivery, schedule a trade-in evaluation, complete an online finance application, choose accessories, and utilize the digital service experience, where appropriate with pick-up and delivery – are all options that are being rolled out. But to be very clear, digital tools will not replace the need for VW dealers. Car buying, in most cases, is the second largest purchase most people make in their lives after buying a house. Customers still are looking for the experience – touching, smelling and test driving their VW before they buy. The addition of digital features now just makes the experience much more comfortable. Do you anticipate a change in the way people use their cars, especially as we see major changes to the way people view travel? Overall, I believe that the status of the personal car is high and will continue to increase in the U.S. after the COVID-19 pandemic. People see their personal car as their sanctuary. There is a lack of comfort with any form of public transportation. In regard to travel, I expect people will use their cars more, especially for shorter trips when you can drive rather than fly. On the other hand, with the increased popularity of working from home, people will be driving less. However, if we see trends of people leaving the big metro areas and moving to secondary metro markets continue, as those areas normally have less public transportation, people will need more cars. ID.4 electric vehicle concept. Concept vehicle shown. Not available for sale. Specifications may change. What effect do you believe the pandemic could have on the transition to electric vehicles, if any? I expect the pandemic could cause the transition to electric vehicles to briefly hesitate but then accelerate. The main reasons are: Charging Stations: With charging stations at home, there is no danger of infection at gas stations. The handle of a gas pump is a highly contaminated surface that drivers regularly touch, even before COVID-19. Clear Air: We all are experiencing the positive changes to the air quality that we are breathing right now as fewer vehicles are on the road. Scenic views once prohibited by smog are now more visible. People have realized that a decrease in combustion engine-driving may translate to cleaner air. We are seeing some of these effects. I predict municipalities will want to hold on to the cleaner air for their inhabitants and increase regulations on the local level. How do you think ride sharing will change, if at all? Now more than ever, ride sharing is a service that should be used carefully. Customers should consider what health condition is the driver in? Who was the last guest in the car, and could they be a risk? The other consideration is a political one. Many countermeasures can reduce the flexibility of the ride sharing concept as there is the possibility of being regulated like taxi services are today. That could have an impact on the price position of these services for the consumer. Other plans, like the one being explored by the state of California where a percentage of ride sharing vehicle miles in the future will need to be 100 percent electric, will further increase the cost of entry into the ride sharing business model. What digital tools do you think will be most critical for dealers to engage with customers in the future? Digital tools that cover the complete purchase and ownership process will be the most critical. This includes tools that help people with researching information, evaluating the trade-in value, putting custom financing together, individual after-market products, service appointments, and ownership information. These are the immediate focus areas for VW dealers. And through the effects of the COVID-19 crisis, we have seen a tremendous spike in dealers engaging with such tool sets. But we need to remember that these tools are just the beginning. With every new VW vehicle generation, we will see new features that take our cars into the digital world creating the connection between customer, dealer and car. More and more, we will see digital tools used more frequently, such as the over-the-air updates or specific modules in the car that are activated by the customer as they please. There will also be special features that allow consumers to customize their VW to their specific needs, for special occasions or for the everyday use. And for the first time, the vehicle’s second owner will have the capability to customize a used car to their taste. This will establish a very strong link between the customer and the VW dealer. How do you envision future showrooms? The future showroom – I see them as locations where customers can experience the brand. For example, they can get in touch with the colors, the materials, the emotions of the brand, and of course, the VW products. As we continue to leverage our digital tools to showcase the products, it’s possible that future showrooms might not need to be as big as they are today. VW dealers and the VW brand will work together in defining what future showrooms could look like, so we can offer the right mix of digital and physical retail. It will be a true VW concept that is a win-win for the customer, the dealer and the brand.
Volkswagen Group of America is proud to return to the port of Baltimore and welcomed its first ship Friday at its new processing facility. Covering 115 acres, the recently built distribution center at the Tradepoint Atlantic terminal will import, process and distribute about 120,000 new vehicles from Europe and Mexico each year to dealerships across the eastern United States, with plans to expand in the future. Built with an investment of about $150 million, the new VWGoA facility is expected to add about 100 new full-time jobs to the site and is anticipated to support and increase jobs in related fields through higher trucking volume, rail volume and vessel unloading. “The Port of Baltimore has earned its reputation as a vital gateway to markets in the U.S. and around the globe, and this long term commitment from another major automaker is further proof that Maryland is open for business,” said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan in a statement. “This is tremendous news for our state, Baltimore County, and the Port of Baltimore.” The facility brings Volkswagen imports back to the port of Baltimore after an absence of more than 25 years. Baltimore was one of VWGoA’s original ports of entry for the Volkswagen Beetle and Microbus, which were delivered to a pier in what is now the Inner Harbor. “The mid-Atlantic region has long been a strong market for Volkswagen Group of America and we are pleased to announce the launch of our eighth and newest vehicle processing operation in the U.S.,” said Anu Goel, Executive Vice President for Group After Sales & Services, Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. The port will also welcome Volkswagen Group’s new car carriers powered by liquefied natural gas. Compared to the standard diesel fuel typically used on traditional overseas car freighters, the new carriers help reduce carbon dioxide emissions, an important piece of Volkswagen Group’s global decarbonization strategy. “Not only does this new port facility reinforce our commitment to the U.S. market by adding to our existing footprint and the jobs that come with it, but it represents a smart business decision as well,” said Anu Goel, Executive Vice President, Group After Sales & Services, VWGoA. “This strategic location can help us with our goals of getting vehicles to our Mid-Atlantic dealers faster and with lower total cost.” Both ships have 13 car decks and the capacity to carry up to 4,800 Volkswagen Group vehicles at a time. The facility resides on the former site of the late industrial behemoth Bethlehem Steel, which once imported steel for iconic landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge and nearby George Washington Bridge. The former steel mill has since been ranked first among U.S. ports for the number of imported automotives for the past nine years.
Volkswagen de México As one of the largest vehicle producers on the planet, it may be no surprise to learn that there are 16 Volkswagen brand plants in operation today. One of the longest-running plants is located in Puebla, Mexico. Volkswagen de México headquarters was established in Puebla in 1964. In 1965, the company began the search for a new production site and began building the plant that year. Construction of the plant completed in July 1967 and the first car—the iconic Beetle—rolled off the line in October. Located roughly 75 miles southeast of Mexico City, the Puebla plant is built on an area of over 740 acres and is a significant player in the manufacturing of many Volkswagen vehicles seen on the road, particularly here in the U.S. The plant holds a special place in automotive history with its production of the Beetle, or “Vocho” as it is fondly referred to in Mexico. Three generations of the Beetle—the original Beetle, New Beetle, and the “21st Century” Beetle—were produced in Puebla, with the first-generation model continuing to be built there until 2003. Sales of the original Beetle ended in the United States in the 1970s, but remained a popular choice in Mexico. This factory exclusively produced the Beetle from 1997 to 2019, making more than 1.7 million units. Aside from the Beetle, the Puebla factory also produced the Safari (Type 181), Combi (Type 2), Brasilia, Caribe (Golf A1), and others. Today, the Volkswagen Jetta, Golf and Tiguan are produced in Puebla. Following the end of Beetle production last year, the factory will soon include the production of a new compact SUV tailored to the North American market. This Volkswagen plant is the largest automobile production facility in Mexico and one of the largest plants in the Volkswagen Group. In 1980, a red Beetle marked the one-millionth vehicle produced at the factory, a milestone of success for any automotive factory, and more than 12 million vehicles have been produced in this plant to date. In 2019 alone, there were 443,435 vehicles produced in Puebla. From the stamping of the body parts to the final assembly, this plant is vital to the brand’s North American and global success. The Puebla plant celebrated its 50th year of manufacturing in 2017, a milestone that would have been impossible without the generations of men of women of Puebla who have worked there since the beginning. A Volkswagen engine plant opened in Silao in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato, in January 2013. Between the two locations, there are about 13,000 employees. The fourth biggest city in Mexico, Puebla has many interesting landmarks that include Cuexcomate, one of the smallest volcanoes in the world; the Great Pyramid of Cholula, one of the largest pyramids; multiple Aztec structures; and holds a prominent piece of history related to the Cinco de Mayo holiday. A city with traditions rich in food and art including Mole poblano and Talavera ceramics, Puebla is a beautiful city with colorful buildings and plenty of “Vochos” on the road. of