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Volkswagen Looks to Move Past Diesel Mess With New Plug-in SUV

By John Rosevear - Apr 18, 2016 at 7:03PM

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VW will show off a new plug-in hybrid SUV concept car at next week's auto show in Beijing. It's another sign that CEO Matthias Mueller is serious about electrification -- and that VW is serious about selling more SUVs.

Volkswagen released several "teaser" photos of its Beijing Concept, a new plug-in hybrid SUV that will likely be unveiled next week. Image source: Volkswagen

On Sunday, Volkswagen (VWAGY -0.75%) released "teaser" photos of a new SUV concept it plans to show off at the Beijing Motor Show. The show will get under way this weekend.

What Volkswagen said: VW said that its "Beijing Showcar" is a "new development in the premium SUV segment."  It gave "ten key facts" about the concept:

"1. Volkswagen is presenting one of the world's most advanced full-size SUVs.

2. Concept Car transfers full-size SUV design to a new sporty and elegant level.

3. Volkswagen systematically advances digitalisation of the automobile.

4. Digitalised display and control concept of the SUV concept car enables a completely new range of interactivity.

5. Active Info Display and infotainment system merge under a sheet of transparent glass to become a Curved Interaction Area.

6. Interior is a relaxed living space, and digitalised operation focuses on the person more than ever.

7. SUV has a plug-in hybrid drive with 280 kW of system power and 700 Nm of system torque.

8. Electric driving range of the SUV is up to 50 km.

9. Less than 3.0 l/100 km NEDC fuel consumption.

10. Concept Car accelerates to 100 km/h in 6.0 seconds and has a top speed of up to 224 km/h."

Image source: Volkswagen

Simply put: It's a big plug-in hybrid SUV with a high-tech dashboard.

What it means for VW: So far, there's no suggestion that this SUV is anything but a concept car built for show. But following on other recent VW SUV concepts, it shows again that VW is thinking hard about how to become a player in SUVs, a market in which it currently sorely lags.

Image source: Volkswagen

While VW's premium Audi and Porsche SUVs have done well in luxury segments, the SUV offerings from the mass-market Volkswagen have been poor sellers. Compact crossover sales boomed in the U.S. last year, but VW sold just 35,843 examples of its Tiguan SUV -- barely more than Ford's (F -3.33%) Escape or Toyota's (TM -1.31%) RAV4 manage in a good month. The concept shows that VW is thinking hard about ways to build appealing crossover SUVs for its mass-market brand.

It also shows that VW is making a broader commitment to electrification. This has been expected: CEO Matthias Mueller has signaled clearly that VW will aggressively develop more plug-in hybrids and electric cars as it seeks to move past its diesel-emissions cheating debacle.

Image source: Volkswagen

There's also a local angle with the Beijing Concept: Plug-in hybrids are becoming more important in China, where cities have limited non-electric car use as part of efforts to curb air pollution. The fact that it's an SUV is also significant, as VW lost ground to General Motors (GM -2.90%) in China last year in large part because of GM's strong SUV portfolio.

Looking ahead: We'll take a closer look at this new VW once the company releases full details, likely next week. If the concept turns out to be a preview of an upcoming new production Volkswagen SUV, it could be a significant product. We'll know more soon.

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