LOS ANGELES – Volkswagen Brand Group Chairman Wolfgang Bernhard makes a surprise appearance here Tuesday night to unveil the Concept Tiguan to attendees at a star-studded event in honor of the small cross/utility vehicle.

Bernhard, whose position within Volkswagen AG has been in doubt since the announcement CEO Bernd Pischetsrieder will step down at the end of the year, tells Ward’s he is happy at the auto maker but declines to comment on his future.

“I have a job and end of story,” Bernhard says.

Industry speculation has been rampant that Bernhard, brought in during Pischetsrieder’s tenure, would resign or be ousted under new VW CEO Martin Winterkorn, currently head of Audi AG.

Meanwhile, the Concept Tiguan is “very, very close to what the production car is going to look like,” Bernhard tells attendees.

With its Bluetec diesel engine that reduces fuel consumption by 20%, the Concept Tiguan is “our answer to the challenges of the future,” Bernhard says, noting the increased environmental awareness in the U.S.

Bernhard describes the Tiguan’s front end as “confident and expressive,” with open eyes and an optimistic design. Also notable on the Tiguan are large wheelhouses and red signage.

“I’m working on (getting the signage into production), but I can’t make any promises so far,” Bernhard says.

The production Tiguan is set to go on sale in the U.S. in 2008. Bernhard declines to give production or sales targets for the small CUV, the first of its kind from Volkswagen.

“For quite some time now, our competitors and our prospective customers have been worrying about what this new compact SUV of Volkswagen is going to look like,” Bernhard says.

Its predecessor was the Concept A, which was shown in Berlin last year.

Earlier in the evening Volkswagen and Audi announced they will offer Mercedes-Benz’s Bluetec diesel technology in vehicles beginning in 2008.

In that same year, Volkswagen is set to debut its first hybrid-electric vehicles, a Jetta and the Audi Q7.

Bernhard says those plans are on track but refuses to hint at any other hybrids VW or Audi have in the pipeline.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com