Volkswagen Unveiling Passat-Based Three-Row SUV At Detroit Show

Speaking yesterday at the Los Angeles auto show, Volkswagen brand global design chief Klaus Bischoff confirmed to Automobile Magazine that Volkswagen will introduce a new three-row SUV at the Detroit auto show in January. The new model will be based on the same platform used for the U.S.-market Passat and most likely will be built alongside it in Tennessee, and positioned to fight segment leaders like the Honda Pilot.

Volkswagen currently sells the three-row Routan minivan here, but it will soon meet its end as Chrysler plans to kill off the Town & Country and revamp the Dodge Grand Caravan, which the Routan is based on. Moreover, the company's American-market SUVs, the Tiguan and Touareg (pictured above), only seat five passengers. That means the time is ripe for Volkswagen to get into the three-row game in the U.S.

Basing the new model on the American Passat platform would allow Volkswagen to build the SUV at its flexible plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In fact, CEO Martin Winterkorn hinted at that possibility earlier this year when he told reporters that Volkswagen could eventually build "an SUV that ends up roomier than the Tiguan" in Tennessee.

The automaker has already been making efforts to expand capacity there; in July, the factory added a third shift that will boost annual production capacity to 180,000 units by 2013, up 30,000 cars from the facility's current capacity. So far this year, Volkswagen has sold 92,017 Chattanooga-built Passats, putting it on track to sell around 110,000 units this year. That means there would be ample capacity to add another model to the plant's production lines.

As to specifics about the new vehicle, it's almost certain that Volkswagen will offer it with front- and all-wheel drive, like most other modern three-row SUV. Likely powertrain choices include the 3.6-liter VR6 and 3.0-liter TDI V-6 from the five-passenger Touareg. The 2.5-liter inline-five and 2.0-liter turbodiesel engines in the Passat sedan are too weak for such a big SUV, as is Volkswagen's range of four-cylinder gasoline turbo engines. Bischoff hinted that the new model will be more of an SUV than a crossover, his distinction between the two being a matter of design aesthetic, not necessarily on platform.

When the Passat-based SUV makes its public debut in January at the Detroit auto show, expect it to go on sale before the end of 2013.

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