If anyone still needs proof that the Chinese car market is incredibly important to automakers, just look a the number of cars being introduced at this year’s Shanghai Motor Show that aren’t just long wheelbase versions of existing cars. One such car is the Volkswagen C Coupe GTE, a followup to the Sport Coupe GTE that Volkswagen showed at this year’s Geneva Motor Show. The Sport Coupe GTE was the best-looking Volkswagen since the first-generation Passat CC dropped in 2008.
While the C Coupe GTE was designed and built for the Chinese market, Klaus Biscoff, Volkswagen’s head of design, said that the C Coupe GTE “very clearly shows the new ‘face’ of top Volkswagen sedans for the first time.” The design language will probably first find its way onto the upcoming Phaeton sedan, but it will also likely influence the look of the next-generation Passat as well. While the Sport Coupe GTE was arguably a more attractive car, the C Coupe GTE is still quite good looking in its own right, and it’s certainly more emotional than the current Passat.
The C Coupe GTE rides on the same MLB platform as the Audi A6, perhaps signaling a similar shift for Volkswagen’s larger sedans. The next generation of Volkswagens could be sportier and more fun to drive, as well as better looking. One feature that would be incredibly unlikely to make its way to the U.S. is the C Coupe GTE’s opulent passenger-focused back seat. Chinese car buyers may love being chauffeured around, but unless you count Uber, the practice is still uncommon in the States.
Power comes from a plug-in hybrid system that makes a combined 242 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. On pure electric power, it has a range of 31 miles, and on the European cycle can achieve up to 102 miles per gallon. By U.S. standards, that would probably be somewhere around 75 miles per gallon. More impressively, though, the C Coupe GTE has a bladder-busting range of 684 miles. Considering that Volkswagen has said that it will influence the next Phaeton, that may mean the C Coupe GTE’s plug-in hybrid system could see duty in the Phaeton as well.
As Volkswagen Group works to achieve its goal of becoming the world’s largest automaker, the Chinese market presents a huge opportunity to gain valuable market share. At the same time, Volkswagen desperately needs to find a way to gain more of a presence in the United States. Despite investing $1 billion in a Tennessee factory to build the Passat for America, Volkswagen brand finished the first quarter of 2015 with only a 2% market share. That’s the lowest it’s been since 2009.
Failing to gain market share despite investing heavily in the U.S. is causing serious problems internally. Ferdinand Piech, head of Volkswagen Group’s supervisory board, expressed a lack of faith in Martin Winterkorn, the group’s CEO, last week. While the rest of the board stood behind Winterkorn, it’s unknown whether he received their support to preserve stability or because he truly is the best person for the job. Regardless, it’s hard to imagine that anyone at Volkswagen is satisfied with its low market share.
Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, director of the Center of Automotive Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen, recently wrote in a research note that gaining traction in the U.S. was an important part of Winterkorn’s strategy from the time he took office, but “the results of VW’s high investments are sobering.”
Could Volkswagen’s answer lie in more aggressive, sportier designs like the C Coupe GTE? At least with the Phaeton and the Passat, it would seem so. The previous Phaeton was criticized mostly for both its high price and anonymous looks. The Passat, meanwhile, is competing in a segment that, thanks partly to the Hyundai Sonata, has skewed toward much bolder styling. The C Coupe GTE advances a design language that has received a lot of positive press. While it’s definitely designed for China, there are a number of elements that have a place in the U.S. If that’s the direction that Volkswagen heads, it may be able to gain that market share it so desperately wants.