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Surge in VW SUVs may include Atlas after all

Weight of the world: Volkswagen is set to introduce a bevy of new SUVs to the Australian market over the next few years, with the large-sized Atlas crossover a possibility.

VW to multiply SUV range, with US Toyota Kluger-rivalling Atlas back in the fray

Volkswagen logo30 Jan 2017

VOLKSWAGEN is hopeful the all-new seven-seater Atlas will be made available to Australians after all, as the company prepares to significantly expand the number of SUVs to keep up with growing consumer demand.

Reports from the recent North American International Auto Show are stating that Volkswagen Group of America chief executive officer Hinrich Woebcken is looking at bringing the brand’s Toyota Kluger rival to international markets with a right-hand-drive (RHD) version, suddenly putting Australia back into contention as a probable destination for the just-released US-built crossover.

While the Atlas has yet to be confirmed for either RHD production or Australia, Volkswagen Group Australia (VGA) product marketing manager Jeff Shafer told GoAuto at the Sydney launch of the Tiguan 162TSI last week that he would be very keen to see it added to the company’s burgeoning SUV product portfolio.

“It is something we would definitely explore for Australia,” he said. “It hasn’t been an option for us to date, so we always try to monitor the market on an ongoing basis. SUVs are booming across the board whether it’s small, medium or large.

“The Atlas is a very large car, so I can understand where it might fit into the Australian Volkswagen range and the market… even beyond what we’re expecting from the Tiguan Allspace early next year in terms of the third row and cargo dimensions beyond that. So it’s definitely something we will have a look at.” Mr Woebcken also said the Atlas would need to conform to local consumer expectations before it is introduced and that it could exist side-by-side with the soon-to-be-introduced seven-seat Tiguan Allspace.

“We would make sure that the vehicle would meet our customer expectations for technology, safety, and powertrain before we would commit to introducing the car,” he said.

“SUVs are booming and we want to be part of that segment because you go where the customers are. We have a lot of SUVs in the pipeline at the moment, and we’ll have a seven-seater finally with the Tiguan Allspace, but the Atlas will co-exist with that product in the US, so it shows there could be room for two seven-seater SUVs with the appropriate spec and right characteristics.

“So it is too early to suggest that the Atlas is coming to Australia, but it is something we are approaching with an open mind.” Derived from Volkswagen’s MQB modular transverse architecture, the Atlas comes in either front-drive 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol or 3.5-litre V6 all-wheel-drive (AWD) guises, with the latter featuring an eight-speed automatic transmission.

While it would most likely be the largest Volkswagen ever sold in Australia at over 5000mm long, nearly 2000mm wide and 1770mm high, the Atlas would still sit below the well-established – and slightly smaller – Touareg as the brand’s range-topper, with very clear differences between the two.

“The Touareg is very much a flagship type of vehicle, and will bring a lot of new technologies to the market,” Mr Shafer said.

“The Atlas is about space and functionality and value, so they’re sitting in different parts of the market, and I can see a scenario where they would sit happily together.

“If you look around at some other manufacturers, they’d have equivalent ranges, so the key would be to make it clear to customers what each product is offering, and what their strengths are.

“So I think that’s largely a pricing and communication discussion. And I think that with the number of SUVs sold and the size of the marketplace, there’s room for a fairly full range.”

The third-generation Touareg – previewed by the 2016 Beijing motor show-starring T-Prime Concept – is expected to grow in size and price when it arrives sometime next year, and employs a variation of the MLB-Evo platform that already underpins the latest Audi Q7.

At the other end of the spectrum are two all-new SUV possibilities to slot beneath the Tiguan, starting with Volkswagen’s hotly-anticipated response to the highly successful Mazda CX-3.

Due to be unveiled at the Geneva motor show in early March, the small-sized crossover is expected to be based on the next-generation Polo light-car, while the second SUV is likely to be the long-speculated production version of the 2014 T-Roc Concept, a Golf-derived crossover to compete with the Mercedes-Benz GLA.

“I am really certainly looking forward to that product,” Mr Shafer said. “There’s room underneath the Tiguan for at least one model and maybe even more, so it makes a lot of sense in our range to add that product.

“Again, it’s an area that is showing a lot of growth, and in the end it’s about giving customers choice between our strong range of hatchbacks and sedans, and then across to the SUVs and crossover vehicles.”

Finally, though it is far from a certainty, Mr Shafer believes that Australians would respond strongly to a more rugged 4x4 wagon in the mould of the Toyota Prado and Ford Everest.

“That’s an area that’s developed over the last couple of years with a lot of entrants doing pick-up based SUVs,” he said. “And again you’d look how you would communicate that and what the customer role is.

“For the moment the Tiguan Allspace is more on-road focused and family oriented, but there could be room for a type of vehicle targeting off-road use, countryside or towing. So we wouldn’t rule out something like that.”

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