Is U.S. buzz over ID Buzz enough to get it made here? VW exec now says maybe

Marketing

After declaring this month that they had no intention of doing so, Volkswagen executives are now rethinking their plans to keep production of the retro-styled electric minivan, the ID Buzz, anchored exclusively in Hanover, Germany, with North American production now a possibility.

So what changed between March 10 and March 21?

Consumer reaction — especially in-person — as the brand brought the ID Buzz to South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, said Volkswagen of America CEO Scott Keogh.

“Demand is through the roof — it’s super high — so I think we’re going to have to give a fair amount of strategic thoughts on this front,” Keogh said. “Obviously, there’s going to be a big boost at launch, I think that’s no surprise. In my mind, I think it’s sustainable, when you see the amount of demand.”

Keogh spoke of driving European-spec ID Buzz models in Austin this month, where he was joined by Herbert Diess, CEO of Volkswagen Group, where the two executives were able to see local reaction firsthand. Ralf Brandstaetter, CEO of VW passenger cars, said last week that the brand anticipates selling 120,000 ID Buzz models per year.

“Cars like this do the most important thing. Business is good, making money is good, but get the brand liked and loved again, that’s where we want to get to, and that’s what this is doing,” Keogh said. “Being down in Austin with this vehicle” was the highlight so far of his three-year stint as CEO of VW of America, he said, “driving around and just getting literally people jumping in front of the vehicle; that’s awesome.”

Speaking March 10 to dealers gathered in Las Vegas for the NADA Show, Keogh was asked about lessons learned from the company’s launch of the ID4 last year that he would carry forward to the launch of the ID Buzz.

First and foremost, he said, “I would have pushed harder to localize the car and localize the car sooner, without a doubt.” He said then that demand for the ID4 was broader nationwide than anticipated, despite a lack of built-up charging infrastructure in many areas.

After his the speech, Keogh clarified to Automotive News that ID Buzz sales volumes in the U.S. would likely be under 100,000 annually — a benchmark that historically has allowed automakers sufficient scale to save money on production.

“Honestly, the ID Buzz, I don’t see localizing,” Keogh said then, “but the sky’s the limit, and we’re excited.”

Monday, however, that changed slightly.

Keogh said he received “a four-page email” from a small dealer in the U.S. who he said might have expected to sell one or two ID Buzz models when reservations formally opened later this year for the minivan, which won’t arrive in the U.S. until 2024. The dealer told Keogh that he “had 75 reservations, people put down $500 each,” in a dealer-run ad hoc reservation for the U.S. version of the ID Buzz, which hasn’t even been shown yet.

Keogh said he was shocked.

“To be a little bit cynical, [a new microbus] is a car we’ve been in one form or fashion discussing for over 20 years,” Keogh said. But the ID Buzz combines “powerful nostalgia” with “an entirely new way to be a cool Dad, a cool family, a cool everything,” and with demand as it is, “we might need to react accordingly,” by localizing production to ensure the brand can produce enough to meet North American demand.

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