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Kenneth Moriarty: "Volkswagen it's about love, emotion, and a shape that became eternal"

Interview with a VW executive from the Department of Corporate Strategy and Coordination of Volkswagen of America Inc.


By PEPE FORTE, i-friedegg.com publisher, host of AUTOMANIA on Univision Radio and a SAMA member. Interview published in letstalkcars.com and the carconection.com in Spanish in october 2003.

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In September 2003 I attended to the Volkswagen Phaeton international launch held in Dresden and Berlin, Germany. During the event I had the opportunity of interviewing Mr. Kenneth Moriarty, from the Department of Corporate Strategy and Coordination of Volkswagen of America Inc., about the new product, the first luxury car in the company's history, and about the Beetle. By the time the interview was made, Volkswagen was planning the re-introduction of the new Combi, a later on ill-fated project. So the new Microbus also was a subject on the conversation. 

Pepe Forte: Mr. Moriarty, Volkswagen means in German a-car-for-the-people. Isn't It the Phaeton, a one hundred thousand dollar car, somehow contradicting the essence of VW?

Kenneth Moriarty: Well, it's just me speaking. You almost got to go back to what do we mean by Volks. The word Volks was applied to Volkswagen during the day when there were very clear, distinct classes of people. Today we live in a very much of a classless society. So, couldn't Volks be somebody who can afford a very expensive car as well as somebody who can only afford a less expensive car? This whole idea of Volks is probably changed as well, and today we got people who go through an entire cycle in their lives. They start of young without a whole lot of money, now they go from that to being extremely affluent and if they loved us from when they were 19 years old and we were able to keep some of those same characteristics and those same values, in more expensive Volkswagens over the line, why shouldn't they be happy with us when they are 50 years old and affluent, rather than say, well, you hit a certain point and now we gotta hand you over to somebody else, where they might not be as happy because of that emotion that they had when they first bought a Volkswagen?

PF: The VW Beetle is, no doubt about it, an automotive industry's icon. Where does its success come from? Would it be the new version able to keep transforming itself from inside out in the years to come? 

K.M: The way that I see it is that the Beetle is what I call an eternally appealing shape, and it's unique in the automotive industry. It's something that has really become part of the automotive culture and it's uniquely Volkswagen. We've been able to see a shape that was conceived in 1937 and not only has it survived here to the 2003 but it was almost reinvented in the early 1990's, and whatever it is introduced as a current new Beetle it just ignited the same love the people have had for the previous models. We are talking about 50, 60 years, so that's why I call it an eternally appealing shape, because one of the great things is that it is appealing to people who haven't been born when the old car left the scene in the United States, which was in the early 1970's. We've got people who's been born since then and they find the new Beetle still kindles that kind of emotion and love that people have had for all of these years for the old Beetle too.

So, I think Volkswagen perhaps is unique in the industry. It's got the Beetle, it's got the Microbus, it's got the Golf... these are shapes. And there is something about Volkswagen shapes that become eternal.
Would this new Beetle be able to transform from itself out? Yes it would be, because it's not just a new Beetle; this Beetle (like the others before) is a consecuence of that original back in the 1930's.

P.F: Volkswagen is rehearsing the re-launch of the old Microbus, now under the retro wave style. ¿How risky is this project since the minivan segment is dramatically shrinking today?

K.M: Now again it’s just me talking. The point is that the Volkswagen Microbus never was and never will be a minivan. Yes, it can carry a lot of people; yes, you can almost stand up on it, but the idea and the possibility is that it was a pioneer in what we call today (and since mid 1980's) the minivan segment, but it won't be considered as a genuine minivan rather as itself.

We would say that people who buy a minivan go for it as a very, very rational life-cycle decision. They got a family, the got kids, they need to be able to carry a lot of people and a lot of gear at one time, but if you talk to people who own a minivan, emotion and love are not the words that you would hear them use. They would talk all about the practicality, and the stage they are in life. I remember when I was 18, 19 years old that I had friends of my age who drove a Volkswagen Microbus; they have no kids back then, but they loved the vehicle. I'm not saying that the new one is going to be affordable for the 18, 19 years old, but beyond that its a matter of attitude, it's not just about carrying people or gear. Now, if people who need to do that buy it, that's all long good but that's probably not going to be the primarily user.


P.F: Thank you for your time, Mr. Moriarty.

K.M: You are welcome…

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