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news 02-24-2007 02:00 PM

Volkswagen's Troubled Touareg
 

Volkswagen's Touareg SUV is as sophisticated, sprightly, and dead ***y as its name is awkward to spell and annoying to say. But at a time when Volkswagen of America is desperately trying to reaffirm its long-lost image as a quirky and clever manufacturer of cars for the rest of us, one has to wonder what this divine, all-terrain hunk of luxury is doing sporting, of all things, a V-Dub grill.

Apparently, potential Touareg buyers started asking themselves that very same question last year. Sales of the VW SUV tanked 43.7% in 2006, down to a niche-like 10,163 vehicles, according to Automotive News . High gas prices and competition for luxury, midsize SUVs that boiled over last year didn't help those sales figures much either.

The Touareg's profile is, unfortunately, eerily similar to that of the ill-fated and much-maligned Volkswagen Phaeton. (That $70,000 luxury sedan was a technological jewel but a sales failure, and was pulled from the U.S. market in 2006.) Likewise, the Touareg is capable, refined, and technologically impressive. But one has to wonder whether senior management is paying attentionlet alone sentient. The Phaeton died because Americans were unwilling to consider a Volkswagen a luxury car (despite the fact that VW also owns Audi, Bentley, and Lamborghini). What makes them think a Touareg that lists between $38,000 and $60,000 would sell any better?

The Touareg starts at $38,110 and is currently available with a choice of three enginesa 276-horsepower V6; a 350-horsepower V8 that bumps the price up to $43,100; and a monster V10 turbo-diesel that makes 310 horsepower but jacks the sticker to nearly $60,000. With that range of prices, the Touareg is spoiling for a fight with a broad swathe of luxury models from the likes of Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and even Porsche. Talk about punching above your brand's weight.

And yet.

I tested what some might generously consider the "economical" Touareg, with a V6 engine and minimal options. On top of the base price, my vehicle was upgraded with a $2,980 luxury package, sporting a host of goodies including power leather seats and parking assistance; a $3,350 navigation system; and $850 bi-xenon headlamps. With the $870 destination charge, the total comes to $45,840. Even now, that final tally elicits double and triple takes. Still, in practice, the Touareg is an excellent car.

Source: [url=http://www.businessweek.com/autos/content/feb2007/bw20070222_164455.htm]BusinessWeek[/url]


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