To help smooth VW's glide to a more American-savvy car company, Jacoby announced this month that Volkswagen had chosen Chattanooga for its first U.S. assembly plant since the last one closed 20 years ago. It will employ about 2,000 and make a new, as-yet-unnamed, midsize sedan.
Now at the helm of the carmaker that's employed him almost continuously since he graduated from college (he did a two-year stint at Mitsubishi starting in 2001), Jacoby clearly relishes the site of the U.S. headquarters here, just outside Washington. It opened in April after the company moved from Auburn Hills, Mich.
He loves that an old Beetle, much like the one he owned in college, has been hoisted up to the sixth-floor lobby of the under-construction building. And while many would chafe at the traffic between the $2.6 million, 110-year-old townhouse he now calls home in Georgetown and his office near Dulles International Airport, Jacoby loves the drive. Drivers here, he says, "are over-reacting to the traffic."
After all, he's seen far worse in Asia and Russia.
One thing about his new country that Jacoby does dislike is its comparatively low speed limits. Plans for a reporter to go for a drive with Jacoby led to jokes around the office that he'd go far too fast. (The drive was scuttled due to scheduling conflicts.)
And while he willingly steered toward a McDonald's and scarfed down a Big Mac Super Meal on his snowy Chicago-to-Detroit drive earlier this year ("He wanted to see what it was like to be an American," Barnes says), Jacoby also now counts the prevalence of fast-food eateries as the only other thing he isn't fond of here.
He wasn't always a car guy. Few people in Germany were when Jacoby was growing up. When he was a boy in Hanover, the family's first car was a 1964 Beetle. Back then, after World War II, a Volkswagen meant "very hard work" to afford one, unlike the fond memories of a quirky car that many U.S. buyers associate with their family's Beetles.
By the time he enrolled at the University of Cologne in 1974, Jacoby well understood the appeal of the automobile. He saved hard to buy his 10-year-old Bug. "My life changed with a black Beetle convertible," he says. He became "addicted" to cars.
"It's a passionate product," Jacoby says. "You can always talk about cars. It's maybe the most complex and technology-driven good sold worldwide."
Setting sales goals
Jacoby's job now is to convince several hundred thousand more people that they can invigorate their lives with the addition of a VW. He's set a goal to more than triple the brand's annual sales, from 230,000 a year to 800,000, within 10 years.
Crain is a bit skeptical. But he concedes that "a consistent marketing message," unlike the safety-minded Volkswagen crash-test ads that he says flopped a few years ago, would go a long way toward getting him there. Accordingly, Jacoby has installed Barnes and the company's vice presidents of marketing and product on a team that Barnes says wouldn't exist at most automakers, because "normally the sales guy is the sore thumb."
Jacoby hopes to promote the brand's improved models to spread the devotion that its still relatively few U.S. customers seem to have for his brand. When he met with members of Washington's Major League Soccer team, D.C. United, after signing a deal to sponsor the team, players regaled him with stories about their early memories of Beetles.