Gabe Nelson
Gabe Nelson
Silicon Valley, Tesla, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda and Mitsubishi

VW SportWagen concept hints at awd in North America

With SportWagen concept, VW mulls awd for North America

VW says the new SportWagen's body shell is lighter than the current Jetta SportWagen and offers an enhanced crash structure.

Photo credit: VW
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WASHINGTON -- A certain type of person went gaga when Volkswagen AG released details on the Golf SportWagen that it will show at the New York auto show this week.

A station wagon? Oh, yes. With a diesel engine? Bingo. And a manual transmission? You bet your hatch. For those enthusiasts who take pride in going against the grain of the U.S. car market, it doesn’t get much better than that.

While the quirky wagon has been described as a concept, it is virtually identical to the Golf-based wagon that VW unveiled at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show, and is on sale in Europe. But there’s a reason that VW is sticking year-old sheet metal in the Big Apple spotlight.

The reason, insiders have told Automotive News, is this: VW needs to decide whether it’s worth making the investment to build all-wheel-drive vehicles at its plant in Puebla, Mexico, which has started assembling the Golf family of vehicles for North America.

VW’s awd kit, supplied by Swedish supplier Haldex AB, is called 4Motion. Right now the Puebla plant lacks the proper tooling for it.

This means any Golf-based vehicles with 4Motion (like the souped-up Golf R, which has already made its way to U.S. shores) need to come from Germany. That is an expensive proposition, with a greater cost of labor, transportation and tariffs.

Volkswagen of America thinks it has a world-class wagon and hatchback on its hands. The company and its dealers gaze longingly at Subaru, with awd models like the Impreza, XV Crosstrek and Outback, and fret that a front-wheel-drive wagon simply will not do for many buyers in the cold-weather belt.

But they cannot have it all.

Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn announced at the Detroit auto show in January that the German automaker plans to invest $7 billion in North America through 2018. Now’s the time for VW to decide whether 4Motion tooling is a necessity, or if there are better ways to spend money to help the brand get traction in the U.S. market.

You can reach Gabe Nelson at gnelson@crain.com.

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