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Volkswagen parks MX-5 rival, for now

Too-hard basket: Volkswagen’s Concept BlueSport roadster sported a mid-mounted turbo-diesel engine when it was first revealed in 2009.

Timing is everything for a compact roadster, Volkswagen says

24 Apr 2013

VOLKSWAGEN’S global product chief says he wants the company to build a compact roadster to inject more emotion into the brand, but admits the project remains on the backburner.

Talk of a Volkswagen-badged rival for the Mazda MX-5 and forthcoming Toyota 86 cabriolet has been active since the company premiered the Concept BlueSport roadster at the Detroit motor show in early 2009.

The concept featured a rear-wheel-drive chassis powered by a mid-mounted 132kW/350Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine. It tipped the scales at less than 1200kg and was less than four metres in length.

But the vehicle has been in limbo ever since, with a business case yet to be green-lit. The economic downturn in convertible-friendly Europe hasn’t helped, while Volkswagen seems to have ruled out broadening the scale of the project with versions for its Audi and Porsche premium brands.

But the car still has a champion at the highest level, with member of the board of management for development, Dr Ulrich Hackenberg, telling media last week that even though the project has been “parked”, it could yet emerge from the product development driveway.

“I would like to do it. It is something I am missing, and it would be great for the emotionalisation of the brand,” he said.

“It’s one of my favourite projects, and I’m still waiting for some volumes ... the problem is that the volume itself is quite small.

“I need a definite level of volume to make it a business case, (and at the moment) it’s not big enough to make it positive.

“So the car was under development up to a specific level, but we have parked it now and we are looking to the markets.

Dr Hackenberg said a major stumbling block was the health of projected key markets, largely comprised of style-conscious developed countries in Europe. As GoAuto has previously reported, European sales slumped in March for the 18th consecutive month.

“The vision of the markets is not so positive, especially in the markets that like roadsters or convertibles,” he said.

“If you look to Europe, for example, it is not the strongest market at the moment, and the strong markets are not convertible markets. Markets with good growth such as China and South America are not convertible markets.

“I have said it is better to park it (put it on hold) for now, because if I bring it to a decision, maybe the decision will come back negative (laughs).”

Having previously stated that the company needed a minimum production of 50,000 to 60,000 units a year to make the project viable, Dr Hackenberg was asked if this could be achieved by producing versions of the car for Volkswagen’s premium brand Audi, and sports brand Porsche.

The problem with this, he said, was the danger of cutting into sales of each brand’s existing offerings, as well as the risk of moving both too far down-market with an entry sports vehicle.

“Porsche has the Boxster, and I think (Porsche president and chief executive Matthias) Muller has said that a Porsche has to cost minimum 50,000 euro. Audi has TT already so they are not so willing.”

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