Volkswagen knows full well it has a lot of work to do in the U.S. market, but it hopes that its upcoming seven-seat, three-row SUV will be a big part of the process. Volkswagen confirmed today that it will produce the new three-row SUV at its existing Chattanooga, Tennessee plant. Built alongside the U.S.-spec Volkswagen Passat, the new model will constitute a $900 million investment from Volkswagen.
We saw our first glimpse of the upcoming three-row SUV at the 2013 Detroit auto show, with the debut of the Volkswagen CrossBlue concept. While the concept used a diesel hybrid powertrain that featured a 190-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four making 295 lb-ft of torque, we expect more traditional powertrain options for the three-row SUV once its details are officially announced. The concept's modern, angular body; abundant technology; and all-wheel-drive capability are sure to carry over into production, however.
It's still unclear on which platform the new midsize SUV will be built, but Volkswagen has both the Passat architecture and Golf-based MQB architecture from which it can choose. MQB underpinned the the CrossBlue concept, but using the Passat platform would make sense given that the new model is also produced in Chattanooga. The 2015 Volkswagen Golf is also built in North America, but in Volkswagen's Puebla, Mexico facility. Existing areas within the Chattanooga plant will go toward production of the new SUV, but Volkswagen also plans to add about 538,000 square feet of additional space.
Product planning vice president Joerg Sommer previously told Automobile that the new SUV is a major part of the brand's strategy going forward: “It will be a true Volkswagen. High quality, emotional, design-focused, and with class-leading innovation.”
Volkswagen is betting big on the American appetite for well-appointed crossovers with generous passenger and cargo volume. Considering the Chrysler Town & Country-based Routan minivan's poor sales and overall unpopularity, the new SUV has a lot of ground to make up toward Volkswagen's goal of 800,000 in annual sales. Last year, VW sold 407,704 cars here -- only about half its stated goal.
“The Volkswagen brand is going on attack again in America,” pronounced chairman of the board of management Dr. Martin Winterkorn in a statement.
Part of said attack is an uptick in research and development to help crack the code of U.S. sales success. Today's investment announcement also confirmed Chattanooga will become home to a new R&D planning center, focused on interpreting customer feedback and integrating these demands into present and future vehicles.
A successful, competitive player in the crossover and SUV market could push Volkswagen toward success where the Tiguan and Touareg have hardly made a dent. We'll have to wait and see when the seven-seat, three-row crossover debuts sometime in 2016.