Special Coverage

Chicago Auto Show

CHICAGO – Volkswagen Group of America Inc. President Stefan Jacoby says the VW brand’s new minivan, unveiled at the auto show here today, is a good candidate for production at the auto maker’s future North American plant.

“I think it would be not this generation of product, but when we talk about the next generation, it could be considered (for production) locally,” Jacoby tells reporters.

The first-generation Routan will be built at Chrysler LLC’s minivan plant in Windsor, ON, Canada. Chrysler and VW co-developed the Routan, which is based on Chrysler’s new ’08 minivans.

Jacoby advises interested parties to “be patient” for an announcement about the plant, which VW expects to make in the next few months.

In the running are the U.S., Canada and Mexico, where VW already operates a large plant. While none have been ruled out, he says, “We think we should be here in the U.S., because we want to be a major player here.”

VW is not yet revealing production or sales numbers for the Routan, but Jacoby says the auto maker is targeting a 3%-5% market share in the segment.

Ward’s segmentation data shows the Honda Odyssey led the segment with a 15.5% share in 2007. The Kia Sedona accounted for 3.6% in the year, or about 40,000 units.

A high-ranking Kia Motors America official, as well as executives from American Honda Motor Co. Inc., were observed examining the Routan soon after the press conference ended.

Despite declining sales as consumers flock to cross/utility vehicles, Jacoby says the minivan segment’s volume still is quite large and, therefore, attractive to VW as it strives to grow its brand in the U.S.

“It’s still a segment of a million, 800,000-900,000 vehicles, and we want to have a decent share of it,” Jacoby says.

VW will offer the Routan with three trim levels: the S, SE and SEL. The SEL model unveiled features leather seating and a power liftgate.

As with most other VWs, Jacoby says to expect the Routan to be richly appointed, noting the midlevel SE is expected to account for the majority of sales.

VW initially will use Chrysler’s 3.8L and 4.0L V-6s, but Jacoby promises with its second-generation Routan, “we will bring a pure Volkswagen (vehicle) with Volkswagen engines.

“I think (the Routan) has very unique Volkswagen exterior design,” he adds, brushing aside concerns the model will be mistaken for a Chrysler Town & Country or Dodge Caravan. “We received very good feedback from our dealers, and I think it’s a real Volkswagen.”

The Routan will go on sale in the U.S. this fall, with pricing beginning below $25,000. Jacoby predicts the model “will be very profitable” for the brand in the U.S.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com