VW eyes bigger Tiguan to meet U.S. sales goals

Automakers sell about 2 million compact SUVs annually in the United States, compared to about 1.4 million mid-sized SUVs. Yet the Tiguan remains a bit player. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

DETROIT -- Volkswagen's new U.S. boss, Michael Horn, is wasting no time in pushing for fresh products to meet the German brand's U.S. growth goals.

First on his list? A new compact crossover larger than the Tiguan and built in North America.

Speaking to reporters today at the Detroit auto show -- despite a case of bronchitis that left him fighting a persistent cough -- Horn was asked whether VW will be able to meet its goal of selling 800,000 units in the United States by 2018. He was blunt.

"If we get the product, yes," he said.

Horn, previously head of global aftersales at Volkswagen AG, took over this month as CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, replacing Jonathan Browning, who left at year end.

Browning had long lobbied for a mid-sized SUV to rival the Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander. VW announced Sunday that the model will be built -- and Horn wants to expand the SUV offensive.

Automakers sell about 2 million compact SUVs annually in the United States, compared with about 1.4 million mid-sized SUVs, he said. Yet the Tiguan remains a bit player.

Dealers say it is too small for the United States and, because it is imported from Germany, offers less bang for the buck than the competition.

"If you want to be there, where we aim to be, then we need more models covering huge segments," Horn said. "Not just special studies and things like this."

Such a move has a precedent. Three years ago, VW split its Passat sedan into two versions, with the United States getting one and Europe getting the other.

Horn said that could happen with the Tiguan. But he said there may be enough demand in Europe for a larger Tiguan that VW could offer both short- and long-wheelbase versions.

"They're checking this as well," Horn said.

This is already what VW does in China; the German automaker builds a long-wheelbase Tiguan in China through a joint venture and imports the short-wheelbase version from Germany.

Horn gave reporters other clues about Volkswagen's U.S. plans for other models, such as the following:

  • Phaeton: Horn said he expects a U.S. relaunch of VW's flagship sedan, which famously flopped when introduced in the United States a decade ago. "Personally, I believe it will come back to the U.S.," he said. "It's clearly planned." Horn said it will be a technology and luxury icon for the VW brand. "Whether we sell it at every dealer, whether we sell it in some of the markets, is a totally different story," he added. "It's not a volume car."
  • Passat BlueMotion: Horn said that VW will consider selling a Passat with a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine, such as the powerplant in the BlueMotion concept shown in Detroit. "If people like it with the current Passat, then we will see it with the current Passat," he said. But he said that the downsized engine, which delivered 42 mpg highway in the Passat concept, will certainly be offered in the Golf hatchback.
  • Amarok: One model Horn does not want for the United States is the Amarok pickup, which he sees as too small for American buyers. "If you put this next to a F-150 ... I think you can put it in the trunk."
You can reach Gabe Nelson at gnelson@crain.com

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