DETROIT – It won’t happen overnight, but Volkswagen of America is moving steadily toward entering the lucrative midsize SUV market in the U.S., unveiling the CrossBlue concept aimed squarely at the Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot.

Based on the MQB platform that is bowing with the new Golf and will underpin nearly every mainstream model in the VW lineup from the Polo to the Passat, the CrossBlue is said to be a realistic interpretation of where the brand will head as it enters one of the biggest and fastest-growing markets in the U.S.

VWA is seeking to cover four of the top five segments in the U.S. It already has three blanketed, with the Tiguan in the small cross/utility-vehicle sector, the Jetta in the compact-car segment and the Passat in the midsize-car market.

Missing is a midsize CUV/SUV entry and a pickup truck. The latter isn’t likely any time soon, if ever, but the CrossBlue appears headed for production.

“We have to get customer reaction, then conduct a production study, develop the vehicle and decide where to build it, so it will be some time yet,” VWA President and CEO Jonathan Browning says when asked how soon the model could join the auto maker’s U.S. lineup.

But he says the segment is one not to be missed, with projections of 20%-plus growth between now and 2018, when parent Volkswagen is targeting sales of 800,000 VW-brand vehicles in the U.S.

It will be difficult for VWA to meet those numbers without a midsize CUV entry.

Because it is based on the same MQB platform that ultimately will underpin the Passat and Jetta, the CrossBlue easily could be built at VW plants in Chattanooga, TN, or Puebla, Mexico, – provided there’s room. Chattanooga currently is building Passats to capacity, but there’s room for a second plant there if VW decides to make the investment.

The concept puts the accent on fuel efficiency, with a diesel/plug-in hybrid powertrain the auto maker says would achieve 89 mpg (2.6 L/100 km) city/highway with a full charge. Electric-only range would be limited to 14 miles (23 km).

The powertrain employs two electric motors, a 40-kW (54-hp) unit up front and an 85-kW (114-hp) motor at the rear to provide all-wheel-drive capability, a setup VW dubs “propshaft by wire.” A lithium-ion battery, packed into the vehicle’s center tunnel to save space, provides the juice.

Central is a 188-hp 4-cyl. turbodiesel. Combined the powertrain delivers 305 hp and 516 lb.-ft. (700 Nm) of torque and can take the vehicle to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 7 seconds. The CrossBlue can run up to 75 mph (121 km/h) in electric-only mode.

Although shown as a 6-passenger vehicle, VW says a production model would have seating for seven.

The CrossBlue is larger than the Touareg, but it would be positioned in price below that highly equipped, sporty model and is seen more as an alternative to a minivan. VWA officials aren’t saying, but it appears likely the brand will exit the U.S. minivan market once the current-generation, Chrysler-supplied Routan completes its run.

dzoia@wardsauto.com