Blog: Dave LeggettVolkswagen's rear engined small car

Dave Leggett | 8 August 2007

One thing I am looking forward to seeing at next month’s Frankfurt Motor Show is Volkswagen’s rear-engined concept ‘city car’. It will be interesting to see how an engine in the rear impacts the body design and also what sort of engine Volkswagen plumps for.

The Volkswagen press release on the subject gives very little away but it does evoke some comparison with the legendary rear-engined Beetle. There is already a new Beetle, of course, but maybe this new car will be something that can better capture the earthy utilitarianism and everyman spirit of the original.

But will it be a car for relatively affluent Western urbanites or one aimed at emerging market consumers? Trying to do both at the same time is tricky.

Renault worked out that emerging markets want low-cost on a fairly large footprint (the car needs to carry four people and luggage comfortably – it is likely to be working as a taxi, formally or informally) and came up with the Logan. It’s a simple solution but one that appears to be working well.

That was where it all went wrong with the old Volkswagen Lupo which was a very diminutive hatchback (emerging market consumers also seem to like three-box designs). It met neither emerging market requirements or the needs of Western European city dwellers where it fell down on price.

The Lupo city car ended up being overpriced for what it was. The Brazilian-made Fox might have been an improvement but being only built in Brazil, exports have suffered from the appreciation of the Brazilian exchange rate in recent years. And it’s still a hatchback.

Volkswagen seems to have learnt its lesson though. It is developing a model for emerging markets to be manufactured around the world – Logan style.

The Frankfurt concept should at least give us some clues on where Volkswagen is heading with its small cars. It’s a challenging area of the market that has the manufacturers transfixed. Get the customer on board with a good small car and hang on to them, if you can. Renault has perhaps got ahead, globally, but Volkswagen will want to show – on its home IAA turf - that it has some tricks up its sleeve before it flexes its industrial muscle.

FRANKFURT PREVIEW: Volkswagen to show microcar concept

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