It was conceived in Germany. The United States and Canada contributed 11 percent of its parts. Mexico gave 40 percent — including its turbocharged 1.8-liter in-line four-cylinder gasoline engine.
Japan sent the six-speed automatic transmission, which also can be operated manually. The whole thing subsequently was assembled in Puebla, Mexico, and shipped to the United States as the 2014 Volkswagen Jetta SEL sedan with a “candy white” exterior and two-tone “ebony” and “cornsilk” leatherette passenger cabin.
Welcome to the global world of automotive development, production and retail. It lays to waste conventional wisdom about the national origin of products, as well as much of the nationalist pride attached to that misconception. It also speaks to other truths — the increased use of and need for global trade; the real need for improved education in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and foreign languages and cultures; and the increasing obsolescence of traditional trade unions.
I know. You thought this was going to be a car review. It is, featuring the aforementioned VW Jetta SEL, a front-wheel-drive compact family sedan targeting the world’s working and middle classes. It is a car that serves its intended audiences well. But that is beyond the point.
VW’s job was to deliver an affordable automobile with maximum content to buyers long suffering from stagnant wages, unemployment and threats of unemployment — people also weighted with the illusion that they deserve and can have anything, especially in a car. That task was extremely difficult with currency exchange rates and trade-union wages and work rules in Germany. It also was problematical with many labor rules and wage scales in North America. So, how to do it?
VW used a formula being used more and more by its global competitors: Design and develop in a trusted home market. Outsource engineering and parts production to proven and highly competent — but lower-cost — foreign partners. Assemble in a hungry-for-work, competent, low-wage environment. Deliver a fully equipped (onboard navigation with rearview backup camera, heated seats, premium sound system, advanced safety engineering) 2014 Jetta SEL sedan to target markets for $27,345 — thousands of dollars below what many European, Japanese and North American rivals charge for a similarly equipped automobile.
You might hate the politics. But car companies aren’t terribly interested in politics — left, right or center. Their main concern is making money, which they can do by delivering a product to as many consumers as possible with the content and pricing those people find attractive. In 2011, VW tried to price the Jetta more attractively by stripping content. That worked for consumers who don’t care about turning in earth-scorching zero-to-60-mph acceleration times, diving into corners on sharp turns, or doing the other mostly silly things that capture the fancy of too many people who review automobiles.
But perception in the car business is everything. And with bad reviews proliferating on the 2011 Jetta, VW officials knew they had to try something else. So they went global, which was a safe bet because of the inherently selfish nature of consumers, which is this:
Many consumers might moan and groan about shipping jobs to foreign countries; they might wring their hands and lift their voices in anger and angst about the demise of trade unions and the triumph of corporations. But they will wear their union jackets and sweatshirts to Wal-Mart, or while shopping for a good deal on a Hyundai, a Kia or a made-in-Mexico Volkswagen. Most of them are not the least bit concerned about looking for the union label.
They want a safe, reliable, reasonably fuel-efficient car at what they deem a good price, and that is what they get in the new Jetta SEL. The turbocharged (forced air) direct-injection engine is new for 2014, and with 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque it easily outclasses the normally aspirated 2-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine (115 horsepower, 125 pound-feet of torque) still being used in the base and S versions of the Jetta sedan. The upper versions of the Jetta — SE, SEL and TDI — now come with interiors featuring high-quality materials, attractive design and sensible layout in addition to desirable options such as seat heat and onboard navigation.
All of the Jetta models mentioned will get you to where you want to go safely, reliably, and easily within the posted speed limits of most local, state and national highways and byways.
I don’t care where it comes from. The Jetta SEL gets a “buy” here.