Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Is VW Committed to Winning the Green Race?

2011 Volkswagen Jetta
Source: Volkswagen of America

When Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn announced earlier this week that VW plans to become a major player in the promising electric car market, I thought to myself, "Let's see which VW will stand behind this commitment."

Will it be the Volkswagen that is the sales leader in Europe and China and has recently made some shrewd moves to position itself for a run at #1 global automaker? Or will it be the VW that has made halfhearted attempts for the last twenty years to truly win over American car-buyers?

My gut says VW will follow through on this commitment and make the investments needed to catch up and compete in electric cars. The market potential is too great and ignoring it would be a foolish move long term. If VW can catch up with Toyota, Nissan and GM (and yes, there is plenty of time for that to happen), the German automaker is in a great position to ride the electric car wave.

Like GM, Volkswagen has long been a leading player in China, the world's largest auto market. As the smog thickens over Beijing with more cars being sold, China will push even faster to develop its electric car market. If it has its green act together, VW should do well when China goes electric.

This is a company that has repeatedly dropped the ball when it comes to the U.S. market.
Behind the Wheel, CNBC
Phil LeBeau

But there's another side of VW that has me wondering if Mr. Winterkorn will truly follow through on his electric car pledge.

This is a company that has repeatedly dropped the ball when it comes to the U.S. market. Over the last 15 years there have been countless promises to lift VW in the world's most lucrative auto market. Still VW does not capture a large chunk of buyers. Much of this can be blamed on Volkswagen leaders in Germany failing to have the vision and desire to win in the states. So VW remained a brand that muddled along with quirky ad campaigns and a line-up of decent, but uninspiring models.

So which VW will stand behind its electric car push?

The global giant that is kicking butt in Europe and China, or the company that has treated the U.S. like just another car market.

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