* Plug-in hybrid power plant; production version also would have more conventional engines
* Front headlights, turn signals and radiator grill merge together
* Exterior has sharp lines
* 22-inch aluminum-alloy wheels with 285/40 tires
* Infotainment functions via 10.1-inch touchscreen using proximity sensors and gesture control
DETROIT -- Volkswagen showed off a concept of a new 5-seat sport utility vehicle Sunday that may play a key part of VW's future in America, and the SUV's production could land in Chattanooga.
Called the Cross Coupe GTE, the five-door vehicle is a slightly smaller version of the 7-seat midsize CrossBlue which already is slated for production at Chattanooga's plant in late 2016.
"We believe the concept is a perfect match for America," said VW Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn, citing the electric-hybrid technology of the Coupe.
He said 2016 will be "the biggest SUV offensive in our history." Also, Winterkorn cited production of a longer version of the Tiguan, VW's small SUV, somewhere in North America in 2017, though he wasn't specific.
Klaus Bischoff, chief designer for the VW brand, told a small group of journalists prior to the opening of today's media preview of the North American International Auto Show that it's important to come up with "a new design approach" for the U.S., and the Coupe does that.
He said some of the elements of the concept, which featured a light-metallic-blue exterior, will find their way into the 7-seater, but the Coupe would appeal to a somewhat different motorist.
"It's a strong signal of what we'll do," Bischoff said.
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The Coupe would have a more sloping roof line and, at 119 inches in length, it would not be quite as long as the CrossBlue, which was originally introduced at the Detroit auto show two years ago.
Michael Horn, Volkswagen Group of America's chief executive, called the Coupe "really a possibility," though a decision will be made later on production.
He said the new vehicle product platform VW is introducing in its plants worldwide, including Chattanooga, will help the company make what he termed "derivatives" of autos already approved or under production.
Horn said VW officials will test the reaction of people to the Coupe concept at the auto show.
"We're fighting for the right design and price," he said.
VW is seen as needing new SUV product to meet demand for the vehicles in the marketplace and to help accelerate its U.S. sales.
Karl Brauer, a senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book's KBB.com, said that much of Volkswagen's sales and revenue slide in North America last year can be tracked to its weak SUV lineup. He said the CrossBlue gives Volkswagen a chance to start rebuilding the automaker's position in the U.S. market.
The VW brand's sales fell in the U.S. by 10 percent last year, including the Chattanooga-made Passat.
The German automaker is spending $900 million to build the CrossBlue, and it has plans to hire another 2,000 workers to join the 2,400 already at the Chattanooga factory.
Bischoff said the Coupe's concepts lines are "a lot more precise and clean."
"We've tried to make them as sharp as feasible," he said, adding that the vehicle has "a bold, dominant appearance."
The exterior sides feature an aluminum sill to highlight the Coupe's look.
The interior is "luxurious and spacious," Bischoff said.
"We want to create a quality experience for the customer," he said. "This is not cramped."
The concept vehicle uses a V6 plug-in hybrid drivetrain with a 276-horsepower 3.6 V6 FSI engine and two electric motors, though the SUV would have more conventional power plants if built.
The plug-in hybrid system has a maximum output of 355 horsepower and an all-wheel-drive system that uses an "electric drive shaft," according to VW. The hybrid has a manufacturer-estimated fuel economy rating of 70 mpg.
Bischoff said the Cross Coupe GTE is "the ambassador of a new design language developed by Volkswagen for the U.S. The concept car has a commanding presence. It is powerful with a look that could almost be described as aggressive."
The headlights, turn signals and radiator grill merge together. Two aluminum bars form the basic structure of the grill.
Bischoff said the front and rear elements would make the SUV "extremely recognizable" as a VW.
The Cross Coupe GTE is the third concept car presented by Volkswagen on the way to the production version of the midsize CrossBlue.
Together, all three concepts -- the CrossBlue presented in Detroit in January 2013, the CrossBlue Coupe shown in Los Angeles in November 2013 and the Cross Coupe GTE -- represent just a part of the wide spectrum of SUV variants that can be produced off Volkswagen's modular transverse matrix architecture, the company said.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.