FUTURE OF VW: Volkswagen chairman Martin Winterkorn believes the automaker can master the pending 'digital revolution'. Image: AP / Michael Sohn
Wolfsburg, Germany - Volkswagen chairman Martin Winterkorn tells dpa news agency that the company is in a better position in China than any other automaker - despite the economic slowdown - with millions still waiting to buy their first car.
While acknowledging the challenges posed by the economic slowdown in China, Winterkorn looks to the future with confidence, believing that Europe's biggest automaker can master the pending "digital revolution".
Speaking to dpa ahead of the Frankfurt auto show, Winterkorn shares his view of the future.
dpa: The automotive sector is undergoing change. How fundamental is it, and what are the main challenges?
Winterkorn: The car world is definitely going through historic change. One can certainly speak of a digital revolution with the car: Different power units, automated driving, complete networking, big data, new materials and increasingly efficient production processes ... I feel a sense of a new beginning in the company. We are on the way to reinventing Volkswagen in part.
dpa: VW has been compelled to revise its turnover predictions for 2015, primarily because of weak markets in Brazil and China. How do you see the situation in China, VW's most important market?
Winterkorn: Volkswagen is in a better position in China than any other automaker, and there is no reason for pessimism on our part. Millions in China are still waiting to buy their first car. The middle class is growing, and there is huge potential in the west in particular.
It's true that the Chinese car market is becoming more mature and is not growing the way it has in the past. But all automakers are affected by this. We have long known that the market would normalise sooner or later. China is currently approaching the situation of developed markets. But it remains the most important growth market for cars.
'60 new models'
dpa: VW has no models in the booming market for low-cost SUVs up to $20 000 in China. How soon will this change?
Winterkorn: We're introducing 60 new models and derivatives in China in 2015. We have long recognized demand for an SUV in the entry-level segment. Our timetable for introducing the new models is in place, and we are proceeding apace with these projects.
dpa: How are your plans going for a budget car for developing countries?
Winterkorn: From 2018 we will have a budget car family on the market in China, with SUV, notchback and hatchback under a new brand name. We will make these cars in China, with the models costing between $8000 and $11000.
Of course we would like to be making these models now, but we do not make cars that don't pay off. If one doesn't want to give up on high standards here, then it takes a lot of time to find the right suppliers at the right conditions. We have now managed that.
Taking on Apple, Google?
dpa: Cars are increasingly networked, and your new competitors are Apple and Google. How do you see them?
Winterkorn: A warm welcome to Google, Apple and all the others to whom our core product is extremely attractive. I'm looking forward to a sporting contest for the best solution. But I'm convinced Volkswagen will retain its leading role.
With 11 000 software and data analysts, our company has long been one of this country's largest IT companies. As an engineer I see this technological change not as a threat, but rather as a major opportunity for Germany as a car producer - and certainly for our company. As one of the technological leaders, we are able - and we will - energetically drive forward the shift. Mobility in all its aspects will remain our original domain and passion into the digital era.