Hey, have you heard that Volkswagen wants to dominate the auto industry by 2018? It wants a million sales in the U.S. (between itself and Audi) by 2018? We said that it was going to be tough to reach, basically increasing sales fourfold from their 2008 pace when the goal was announced. But now that VW is among the fastest-growing brands in the U.S. (and just wrapped up its best sales year here, ever, even higher than the 1970 Beetle-fueled peak), maybe fewer pundits are laughing at them.
Now that the dumbed-down, U.S.-built Passat has joined the dumbed-down, Mexico-built Jetta in the U.S. lineup, and both cars have found many buyers (despite sometimes lukewarm reviews from the automotive press), it’s time for VW to attack its next beach head: the meat of the U.S. midsize SUV segment.
Its weapon of choice is the CrossBlue concept, a six-seat midsize SUV designed specifically for North Americans, by Germans. That’s right – Germans are once again using their understanding of American tastes in their product planning. You know what? I’m done making fun of VW’s decisions vis a vis the U.S. market, because they may just know what the hell they are talking about. At least in the short term. The “full-size SUV for fat, dumb Americans” that I thought VW management was referring to in 2011 was supposed to slot between the compact Tiguan and the large, luxurious, expensive Touareg, not above the Touareg in size. And guess what? That is where VW needs to be, and soon.
Though few families are large enough to require six seats, it’s nice to have the extra space from a marketing standpoint (heck, and even a practical one, in case your two kids have two friends and you wind up needing to schlep them from practice to home from time to time), and the Tiguan just isn’t big enough to handle an extra row of seats.
There’s no doubt that the CrossBlue is close to production intent in terms of its exterior and interior design, but expect a more traditional 2-3-2 (7-seat) layout in the production model. In fact, Volkswagen said so itself.
Another likely concept-only feature is the pricey diesel-hybrid drivetrain. There’s a reason diesels and hybrids – two very effective fuel-saving technologies – are not typically combined except in locomotives, and that’s cost. Both are expensive, and having both means even more cost – and in a mainstream brand, extra cost is not a way to sell cars.
Still, the notion of pairing diesels and hybrids is a compelling one. In this application, VW engineers estimate that the vehicle would get about 33 MPG city/37 MPG highway under diesel power alone (so that’s a reasonable estimate for what a future non-hybrid TDI version of the CrossBlue (under whatever foreign-sounding name VW comes up with to replace the inelegant CrossBlue). As a diesel hybrid, though, the CrossBlue scores an impressive 35 MPG combined, and 89 MPGe when driven in electric mode. It can travel 14 miles on electricity alone with a full charge, and boasts a combined 306 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque (zero to sixty in about 7.0 seconds).
You can judge the design for yourself (please pardon the stock photos; at the time I was taking photos of the CrossBlue, I couldn’t get a clean shot), but it’s the typical horizontally-focused, conservative design that Walter de Silva has imbued at Europe’s largest automaker over the past several years.
Aside from the fact that Volkswagen is poised to attack a key segment of the U.S. market (its 196.3 inch length is in the ballpark of the 191.4 inch Honda Pilot and 197.1 inch Ford Explorer; its 79.3 inch width is close to the Pilot’s 78.5 and Explorer’s 78.9; it’s about two inches shorter than the other two, though), competitors should be nervous about the fact that the CrossBlue rides on VW’s new modular MQB architecture – which will underpin millions of Volkswagen and Audi cars and crossovers each year. Why should they be afraid? MQB means flexibility and platform sharing taken to the nth degree, and it means that VW can strongly compete on cost because of the sheer scale of global MQB architecture production. The fact that the next-generation Golf’s architecture can also underpin an SUV that is roughly the size of a Ford Explorer should scare the crap out of competitors.