SCOTTSDALE, AZ – For global auto makers, all roads lead to the U.S., which is why the Audi Allroad may return to the market from which it was pulled last year.

The reason is simple. Allroad buyers are fiercely loyal and proud ambassadors for the Audi brand.

'07 Audi Q7

“They're freaks,” one company insider says.

As Audi AG paved the way for this year's rollout of its all-new Q7 cross/utility vehicle, the intrepid A6 Avant-based Allroad CUV was discontinued in North America. The '05 model was its last. (See related story: Q7 Replaces Allroad for North America)

“This is the reason why we won't get rid of AllRoad – we have such a loyal customer base who like this type of vehicle,” says Heinz Hollerweger, Audi general manager-general vehicle development. “They don't like SUVs.”

They may not migrate to the Q7. With its high roof and third-row seating area, the Q7 is a CUV that exploits SUV styling. By Ward's segmentation, it competes with such CUVs as the Volvo XC90, BMW X5, Porsche Cayenne and, to a lesser extent, the Volkswagen Touareg.

The Q7 shares its underpinnings with the Cayenne and Touareg but is 12 ins. (30 cm) longer and offers unique feature content, such as a radar-based driver-assist system to warn against unsafe lane changes.

North American production units of the rugged CUV are rolling off the assembly line this week in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Meanwhile, final testing of the next-generation Allroad is under way this week in South Africa, as Audi prepares to introduce the new-generation wagon in Europe, Hollerweger says.

The Allroad meets all regulatory requirements for the North American market, but Audi executives offer no precise timetable for its return, saying only that the auto maker understands the Allroad is important to the brand.

“We get it,” says Filip Brebec, product planning manager-Audi of America Inc. “But the (sales) potential is too small for right now.”

The Q7 is aggressively priced with a starting sticker of $49,900. This would confuse the consumer, Brebec says, because the new A6 Avant will sell for just over $46,000, leaving no breathing room for the higher-priced Allroad.

The Q7 is Audi of America's top-priority product. The auto maker eventually would like to see its U.S. sales volume approach the level of its best-selling A4, which accounted for 44,454 deliveries last year – an 8.9% hike over 2004 levels.

The Allroad, conversely, accounted for only 4,626 unit sales in 2004, its last year of full production for the U.S. market, making it more of a niche vehicle. In 2005, Allroad sales totaled less than 2,500, for a decline of 47.5%.

emayne@wardsauto.com