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Up! and coming? VW may sell small car here

dkurylko@crain.com

TOKYO — The second version of Volkswagen's Up! small concept car very possibly could be sold in the United States, executives say.

VW showed the Space Up! concept at the Tokyo auto show just six weeks after the first, smaller version debuted at the Frankfurt motor show. The second Up! is longer than the Frankfurt concept by about 9 inches (total length of 12.1 feet) — a size that would be better suited for the United States, says Ulrich Hackenberg, head of technical development for VW AG.

Hackenberg says the first real test for the Up! will be next month at the Los Angeles auto show, when VW will show a third variant: an electric version on the longer platform. Although the Up! was a big hit in Frankfurt, VW management still isn't convinced that U.S. drivers will welcome the small, rear-wheel-drive car with its boxy shape and short front and rear overhangs.

German management will decide in three to four months whether to green-light the Up! family, which would replace the subcompact Fox sold in Europe.

A source says the Up! would go into production in 2010 and be sold in the United States soon after its introduction in Europe.

Hackenberg says some of the concept car's innovative features — such as rear doors that open like suicide doors — aren't likely to make it into production. The car won't replace the New Beetle, which will continue in production, he says.

The Up! is a four-seater. All seats except the driver's can be folded and removed.

The cockpit has a seven-inch touch-screen monitor to control all vehicle functions with menu icons that rotate in a carousel fashion similar to the controls on the new Apple iPhone. Hackenberg would not comment on the very obvious similarities.

In late August, VW AG CEO Martin Winterkorn met with Apple CEO Steven Jobs in California to discuss "cooperation." VW confirmed the meeting but would not discuss details.

The Up! would run on three-cylinder engines, says Hackenberg, who wouldn't say whether the powerplants will be gasoline or diesel. He also wouldn't say whether the all-electric vehicle would go into production. c

You can reach Diana T. Kurylko at dkurylko@autonews.com
Tags: Automakers

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