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Volkswagen still keen on seven-seat SUV

Change up: Volkswagen has homologated a V8 diesel version of its Touareg for Australia, which might top $100,000.

Australia a key market for seven-seat VW SUV still under consideration at Wolfsburg

Volkswagen logo18 Sep 2012

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

VOLKSWAGEN’S on-again, off-again seven-seat SUV appears to be back on – and the ambitious German company’s Australian outpost is interested.

Asked at today’s Up city car launch if further expansion into the growing SUV market was planned, Volkswagen Group Australia managing director Anke Koeckler indicated that a seven-seat big brother to the Touareg was on the agenda.

She said no firm decision had been made to put such a car into production but agreed it would be important for Volkswagen’s key growth markets of North America, China and Russia – and that Volkswagen Group Australia would also be “waving our hands” to secure supply.

Asked for clarification on whether the range expansion would be more toward a SUV or people-mover, Ms Koeckler said it would “definitely be an SUV” and that it could go into production within three years of being given the green light.

At the moment, Australians wanting a seven-seat, all-wheel-drive Volkswagen must buy the van-based Caddy Maxi Life 4MOTION people-mover, which lacks the ride-height, off-road ruggedness or image of an SUV.

A company with a penchant for platform sharing, current products Volkswagen could base the new seven-seater on include the Touareg luxury SUV or the Amarok one-tonne ute but Ms Koeckler would not confirm either way, simply saying it depended on whether such a vehicle would be geared toward comfort or off-road ability.

3 center imageLeft: Volkswagen Group Australia managing director Anke Koeckler. Below: VW Amarok.

The recent trend for seven-seat SUVs has been away from rugged ute-based separate chassis architectures in the interests of weight, fuel-efficiency and refinement – the most recent example being the next-generation Nissan Pathfinder.

However, Holden’s upcoming Colorado 7 shares both its chassis and name with a workhorse and Ford is pressing ahead with a Ranger-based SUV.

Volkswagen’s Argentinian-built Amarok ute has impressed critics with its fuel consumption plus SUV-like levels of ride comfort and refinement, so would potentially lend itself well to a family wagon.

However, in March Amarok project development engineer, Karsten Wohler, quashed that idea, saying the company was “not pursuing such a vehicle”.

The Touareg – built using a passenger car-like monocoque architecture – shares a platform and a production line with the ageing seven-seat Audi Q7, so those underpinnings could either be recycled or the new vehicle could share its chassis with the next-generation Q7.

The problem with enlarging the Touareg is cost – a $20,000 price gulf already exists between it and the compact Tiguan – and in May Volkswagen of America CEO Jonathan Browning hinted that the company’s third SUV would fit into the range between the aforementioned products.

Audi’s next-generation Q5 SUV will be built in Mexico, potentially providing Volkswagen with both a platform and a low-cost North American manufacturing base for its seven-seater.

A Passat-based SUV – separate to the jacked-up Alltrack wagon that will be launched here in November – could also be built at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant in Tennessee that opened in 2011.

Volkswagen Group Australia has previously indicated an interest in new SUV options and Ms Koeckler told GoAuto at last July’s Melbourne motor show that the local outfit would put its hand up for an Amarok-based SUV if one became available.

Whichever way Volkswagen goes about building its third SUV, sales of the genre are on a seemingly unstoppable upward spiral and the markets that could be targeted with such a vehicle are large and growing – aiding the company’s ambitions to become the world’s largest car-maker by 2018.

Volkswagen got a foot in the door to the Chinese market early and is now reporting strong growth in the crucial – and rebounding – United States market, where it has enjoyed 24 consecutive months of growth and racked up a 62 per cent leap in sales last month.

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