At the Los Angeles auto show in November, Volkswagen will unwrap a new mid-engine sports car concept. This marks the third iteration of a theme that started in 2003 with the Concept R and continued in 2005 with the EcoRacer.
The main force behind an affordable mid-engine sports car was Bernd Pischetsrieder. The ousted Volkswagen Group boss wanted to create a lightweight, budget-priced roadster along the lines of the Lotus Elise. There was even talk of Lotus building the car for VW, but in the end, no decision was made. Former VW brand chief Wolfgang Bernhard picked up the idea and green-lighted the quirky-looking EcoRacer, which was duly shot down by the bean counters. Now Martin Winterkorn, the current VW Group chairman, is on the case, and one can safely assume that he enjoys the support of Ferdinand Piëch, the powerful chairman of the supervisory board. The proposal we'll see in L.A. pursues three different strategic goals:
- For Volkswagen, it provides an attractive product in a niche that has long been defined by the Mazda Miata.
- For Audi, it offers the opportunity to switch the next-generation TT from the current FWD/AWD platform to a much more prestigious and more dynamically rewarding mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout.
- For Porsche (which recently cleared another legal hurdle in its quest to take control of VW), there's a chance to join the fray with a modern successor to the rear-engine 356.
It's a fascinating scenario, but it's completely unclear whether VW and Audi can pull off the idea. The problem is Porsche and its desire to protect the Boxster/Cayman, which is what killed the Audi R4, the proposed little brother to the R8.
Audi and VW have since learned the lesson. Thus, the new sports car concept aims at a relatively inexpensive, $25,000-to-$45,000 price range. Its launch timing - 2013 at the earliest - also carefully avoids competing with the Boxster, which undergoes a redesign in 2010.