VOLKSWAGEN Group Australia (VGA) director of commercial vehicles Ryan Davies is confident the company will post strong sales this year due to increased supply and more variants of its Crafter van range.
Rival Mercedes-Benz Vans sold 3230 Sprinter vans in 2018, while Volkswagen recorded just 505 Crafter sales.
Speaking to GoAuto at the Caddy Beach campervan launch in Sydney this week, Mr Davies said that the Crafter’s lacklustre sales performance was due to supply issues.
However, the company plans to bring more units into the country this year.
“We aim to get more volume because we will see more production of Crafter and new variants this year,” he said.
“That’s a space we have underdone mainly because we haven’t had the supply – it’s pure supply and availability of model variants.
“If you look at the numbers on the surface, there’s some opportunity there, and it’s up to us to make sure we bring the right products to market.
“I think that we can do better in vans, certainly in Crafter and Transporter, we have room to move.”
According to Mr Davies, VGA has a strong list of options when it comes to the Crafter, however it remains cautious around electrification.
“We’re talking about mid-wheelbase, long-wheelbase, 4Motion (all-wheel drive), all different types of engine variants – we have options as long as your arms,” he said.
“The suitability of electric vehicles will depend on pricing and accessibility given a lot of our cars are used for couriers and motorhomes. It’s not the type of car that people will want to be charging every three or four hours.
“We have to be mindful of those things and bring the (electrified) products into market when it suits customer needs.”
One variant that VGA may import is the Crafter California, which Mr Davies says is a popular model in European markets.
“There’s a growing desire for multi-use vehicles like a Multivan California for instance, which they are selling just about as fast as they are making them (in Europe). It’s based on the short-wheelbase Multivan with a pop-top,” he said.
“That’s an exciting car that we will probably look at after we launch the Caddy Beach.”
Asked if the V6-powered Mercedes-Benz X-Class poses a threat to the top-spec Amarok – which was previously the only mid-size pick-up offered with a V6 engine in Australia – Mr Davies suggested that the differing price point will keep the Volkswagen safe.
“I don’t think it’s going to hurt the Amarok, given what we’ve seen with the reviews, and the price positioning of that car – it’s on a different echelon to where we are,” he said.
“(X-Class) sales don’t reflect a damaging position for us, but we are cautious, we are not arrogant, and we want to protect our share as best we can.
“We know we’ve got an exceptional product with the most powerful engine in its class, so that’s going to be our mantra to keep pushing that message.”
VGA’s overall light-commercial vehicle sales were down 2.6 per cent last year, with 13,359 units recorded.
Specifically, the Transporter was down four per cent, with 2905 vehicles registered, and the Caddy small van dropped 12.5 per cent to 1974 sales.
The people-carrying version of the Caddy was also down 11.8 per cent to 253 units, while the Multivan saw a 1.8 per cent lift to 1095 units and the Crafter, despite the relatively low volume of 505 units, nonetheless marked a 7.9 per cent increase over 2017.
Mr Davies said the drop in sales overall was indicative of the slowing LCV market as a whole.
“It’s going to be an interesting year. The first half of last year was quite solid in overall market, but we did start to see a dip year-on-year from about March onwards,” he said.
“What that means for this year is that we are keeping a close eye on it and our aim is to protect our volume year-on-year.”
One of the supply issues which Volkswagen has faced is the stink-bug issue that has seen cargo ships turned around before reaching Australia after finding marmorated stink bugs onboard, which pose a biosecurity risk to agricultural crops and plants.
It has been estimated that VGA has been forced to delay more than 1800 vehicles since June due to the problem.
Mr Davies also explained that the Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP) has been difficult for VGA to navigate.
“I think every manufacturer is feeling the pinch of WLTP and the need to rationalise product range,” he said.
“There is simply not enough resources to test the level of variants that we once had, and so we have to narrow down on what the market needs – we just have to adapt.”
VGA bolstered its Caddy line-up with the release of the Beach campervan this week and confirmed a new limited-run Multivan variant will go on sale next month, dubbed Black Edition, which adds a handful of unique exterior and interior touches, priced from $63,490 plus on-road costs.
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