Behind the headlines of new Volkswagen Golf lies a story of in-house power struggles and boardroom blood-letting which led to the car having to undergo a major restyle in a frighteningly short 18 months.
When work began on the new Golf, Dr Wolfgang Bernhard was the head of Volkswagen and Murat Gunak his design chief.
It was they who had started changing the face of Volkswagens, adding large V-shaped grilles like those on Audis. The move was not universally popular.
Bernhard left – or was encouraged to leave – as a result of a board reorganisation in January 2007, after less than two years in office, and Gunak was not long in following.
Dr Martin Winterkorn, head of the entire VW Group, then took a hands-on approach to Volkswagen's new model policy, while Walter de Silva slid across from Audi to assume responsibility for group design.
One of their first actions was to undertake a review of Volkswagen's design direction. It resulted in the entire current and future range, apart from recent arrivals like the Tiguan and Passat CC, going back to the drawing board.
One insider told us how, under what he describes as 'previous regimes', senior management would drop pictures of other cars on the design department's desks with the implication that Volkswagen needed to do something similar.
'We were spending far too much time looking over the fence,' he said. 'The design department has been through some tough times…'
'Volkswagen is not a copier'
De Silva puts it less forcefully. 'We don't need to be carried along by trends,' he said. 'The only way to be a winner in a global market is not to lose one's own identity. It would be a mistake to follow what is going on all around: to copy. Volkswagen is not a copier.'
De Silva believes that a lot of people who buy Golfs do so because they like the perceived simplicity and quality of the car, and has made those characteristics priorities again.
There's nothing remotely surprising about the new car, but therein lies a lot of its appeal.
It's also cheaper to build than the current model – savings which Volkswagen says it has been able to pass on to buyers.
Trim quality and the fit of interior panels are two things that have improved. VW refuses to admit it dumbed down with the Golf Mark V, but acknowledges that 'other manufacturers came closer'.
VW design chief Klaus Bischoff says: 'Now, when you buy a Golf, you get the best quality and perceived quality for touch, feel, smell and even hearing. We've done something for all the senses.'
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