Volkswagen had a pretty good January. Okay, let’s be more specific. Volkswagen had the best January in the company’s history. The German automaker sold nearly 890,000 cars in January 2018, a ten-percent jump over this time last year. VW sales chief Fred Kappler described “significant growth in all regions” as the reason the company had “the best start in the history of Volkswagen Group…”
Volkswagen Group includes the eponymous brand, as well as Porsche, Audi, and Skoda. The sales boost was a tremendous boon to a company that has spent the past few years facing the blowback from a massive technical and public relations scandal that ended up costing the company more than $30 billion.
How did VW get back in the game so quickly? In a word: China. The exploding Chinese market bought four million VW Group cars in 2017, making it easily the largest market for the automaker. And, this year, it’s poised to do even better. Sales from one January to the next jumped 16 percent, reaching nearly 400,000 in a single month. Part of the credit for that goes to the Audi brand, which really seems to have caught on in China, and is now enjoying a 73 percent bump over this time last year. And that’s months before Audi plans to roll out the new A8, which is coming later this year.
SUVs have become incredibly popular in China, where VW is working on what it calls an “SUV offensive,” trying to blanket the market with the larger vehicles. It’s apparently working. VW sold about 42,000 SUVs in January.
But China is not the only place Volkswagen is doing well. The company saw double-digit sales growth in South America as well. Though gains were a bit smaller in North America and Europe, there were gains.
So, yes, the first month of 2018 has been incredible for Volkswagen across the globe. But that trend may not hold. Another public relations issue is starting to get some traction, this one unrelated to the car’s performance. According to several news outlets, VW is being held to account for experiments the company conducted that exposed monkeys to diesel fumes. If that narrative catches hold, it could mean yet another PR problem for the company.
But, as of now, those headlines haven’t quite caught fire, and the company is basking in a major sales bonanza. VW took advantage of the positive press to announce plans to speed up the timeline on its electric and hybrid vehicle programs, hoping to have all of its models either hybrid or electric by 2030. If they can keep the focus on that, rather than the other story, the company could turn the best January ever into the best first quarter ever.