Volkswagen's Australian division desperately needs a small crossover to rival the Mazda CX-3 and Nissan Qashqai, and it has the perfect new model waiting in the wings - potentially.
The chic little Volkswagen T-Roc made its official premiere this week at the Frankfurt motor show ahead of a rollout across Europe beginning from November.
The oddly-named high-riding hatch, based on a similar version of the stretchable MQB architecture as the new 2018 Polo hatch and Audi Q2, will slot into the Volkswagen range below the 250mm-longer Tiguan.
However, there's a slight problem - there's no clear timing on its Australian premiere.
Volkswagen's local team have admitted there's no guarantee it'll show up before the end of 2018, though its product planning team is understood to be pushing its German HQ hard on the issue. This is a real problem, because it needs the car yesterday.
"At this stage we can't give you an update on when it's coming," a senior Volkswagen Australia executive told us this week.
Reading between the lines, Volkswagen's global management drastically underestimated the worldwide demand for the little crossover, to be built in Portugal alongside the Volkswagen Sharan and Seat Alhambra people-movers.
Countries all over the world - aside, in large part, for the US - are growing ever hungrier for small SUVs. In Australia this segment now has 9.5 per cent share of the overall market, and the Mazda CX-3, Nissan Qashqai, Mitsubishi ASX and Honda HR-V all average 1000 or more sales every month apiece.
By missing out on this market, Volkswagen Australia is losing potential sales.
To put it another way, while the Australian market excluding commercial vehicles is now divided into roughly 50 per cent SUVs and 50 per cent passenger cars by sales, Volkswagen's ratio is more like 28:72. The company's overall market share is 4.8 per cent, but its share of the SUV market is just 2.9 per cent.
However, there's light at the end of the tunnel for the local arm. Volkswagen's member of the board of management for sales and marketing Jürgen Stackmann admitted to us this week that the company had already decided to triple T-Roc production before the factory line even began, to 200,000 units annually.
There's no doubt this will help Australia's cause.
Stackmann also conceded that Volkswagen has been lamentably slow to join the worldwide SUV boom, though said this was being rectified with the T-Roc, Tiguan Allspace seven-seater derivative (due on sale in March here), Atlas/Teramont full-size SUVs, plus the new T-Cross baby crossover and next-generation Touareg both due in 2018.
There's also the just-previewed I.D Crozz pure electric crossover SUV that'll go on sale in 2020 priced similarly to a top-end Tiguan (pictured below).
Volkswagen T-Roc details
- The car has what VW calls "pioneering lines, coupe-style roof, strikingly wide front end and concise proportions". You can also order one with the roof painted various contrasting colours to the body.
- Front Assist with autonomous emergency assist, and lane assist are all standard. Level Two Autonomous traffic jam assist is optional.
- The cabin can be had with smartphone-style glass touchscreens up to 9.2 inches, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus the 11.7-inch Active Info Display digital instrument cluster.
- The cabin comes with various colourful plastic inserts that you can swap out whenever, though we noticed hard plastics everywhere too.
- There are six engines (petrol and diesel) headlined by a 85kW/200Nm 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol and a 140kW four-pot. There are six-speed manual and DSG auto gearbox options, plus front-wheel drive or 4Motion all-wheel drive.
- Boot space is 445L/1290L, which is more than a Mazda CX-5 or Ford Escape - both much bigger SUVs. The HR-V has 437L/1462L.