VW’s new Golf is about to land in the U.S.

May 16, 2014, 4:00 PM UTC
Workers of the Volkswagen assembly production plant stand around the new model of Golf GTI that is been presented in the 50th Anniversary celebration in the Volkswagen assembly plant in Puebla, Mexico on Tuesday, Jan.14 ,2014. Photographer: Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg
Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg/Getty

FORTUNE —  There couldn’t be a better moment for the arrival of Volkswagen’s new Golf.

Volkswagen AG, in its drive toward global sales leadership, has been stumbling in the U.S. due to a delay of expected new models.  The automaker’s chief executive officer promised shareholders in Germany on Tuesday that the lapse will be corrected. Two new sport-utility vehicles are on the drawing boards.

Even so, a turnaround for VW in the U.S. could take at least two years. In the meantime, its new Golf GTI hatchback arrives at U.S. dealerships within weeks. The sporty GTI is the first in a wave of new Golfs meant to strengthen VW’s brand image with American consumers; though Golf isn’t a model expected to sell large number, like the Passat family sedan.

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But the new Golfs are significant, because they’re the first of VW’s MQB-derived models, a common global architecture that eventually will provide the underpinning for half or more of all vehicles sold by the automaker around the world. MQB will be the basis for new models sold by VW’s Audi, Skoda and Seat brand — as well as by the VW brand.

By employing a common architecture for so many different models, VW says it can achieve superior economies of scale and lower the cost of production.  Lower cost allows VW to add more features and content or to increase profitability.

Improved sales in the U.S. and the rest of the western hemisphere “is a cornerstone of the 2018 strategy” to be global No. 1, Martin Winterkorn, chief executive, said at this week’s shareholders meeting. “We want to and we must grow there substantially and profitably.”

VW is just ahead of GM in global sales and behind Toyota (TM).

In the first quarter of 2014, VW delivered 3.2 million vehicles worldwide, putting it on track to deliver more than 10 million vehicles for the first time in a single year, and four years sooner than previously forecast. The faster-than-expected pace comes from strong results in China, the world’s biggest single automotive market.

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In the U.S., VW brand sales were down 10% in the first quarter. U.S. dealers are disappointed because many invested in facilities at VW’s urging on the expectation that the company’s new assembly plant in Chattanooga, TN would herald of a wave of new models and growing sales. Prior to Golf, VW introduced a Passat sedan in 2011.

A sport utility (also known as a crossover) for the U.S. based on the MQB and about the size of a Ford Explorer (F) is under consideration for assembly in Chattanooga or in VW’s plant in Puebla, Mexico. The automaker also is considering a replacement for its current Tiguan crossover that would be more competitive with Toyota RAV4 and Nissan Rogue.

Golf GTI, a “hot” hatchback meant to compete with cars such as the Subaru Impreza WRX and Ford Focus ST, represents the seventh generation of VW’s most famous world car.  It first showed up in the U.S. in the early 1980s. In its non-sporty incarnation, Golf first came to the U.S. as the VW Rabbit, a name no longer used.

The new GTI will cost between $25,000 and $30,000, depending on how it’s equipped and likely will be popular among the younger, mostly male buyers for whom it is intended.

U.S. dealers surely are glad GTIs have arrived – though they’ll be much happier when VW’s tardy sport utilities are ready.