America Is Losing the VW Golf R

Volkswagen has announced major cutbacks for the 2020 Golf lineup in the US, and the hottest hatchback has been extinguished.

On Tuesday, Volkswagen announced changes for its 2020 U.S. model lineup — and the news isn’t great for hatchback fans. The Golf family, down 19 percent in sales year-over-year in 2019, is taking a significant hit. We already knew VW was axing its distinguished wagon lineup; now, we’ve learned Americans will also be losing Volkswagen’s hottest hatchback, the Golf R, for the 2020 model year.

In other news, the less-hot-but-still-quite-toasty GTI hatchback is paring down to two trims, S and SE, with the “Autobahn” becoming a premium package on the SE. The poorly-selling (in the U.S., at least) base Golf moves down to just one trim, the so-called “Value Edition.” (That base Golf may not even make it to the U.S. in Mk8 form.) The e-Golf, with sales up 196 percent year over year, will keep on keeping on with two trims.

Scaling back a model as it’s about to be replaced would be a natural choice for VW. But this dramatic culling seems to be a clear response to flagging sales. Maybe it’s model fatigue; the current-generation Golf debuted in 2012. It could be because the Golf family are in the wrong — i.e. non-crossover — segment. But Americans are not buying them, to the point where the problem is becoming existential.

The Golf family’s 2019 sales dip, after all, follows 2018, when the Golf family declined 39 percent over the year before. The Beetle — on its way out for lack of interest — outsold the Golf, GTI, and Golf R combined in the U.S. in July. Considering that, it won’t be surprising if the U.S. only gets upmarket enthusiast (and thus higher-margin) versions of the GTI and Golf R for the next generation.

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