Volkswagen is preparing to pull the covers off its seventh-generation VW Golf later today and already there's a set of leaked images (including a rear shot and interior shots) doing their rounds on the internet.
They look more like renderings than official images to us, but if the former's true it's also very possible that they're based on inside information and pretty close to the real deal.
Even though it's an all-new product that, according to Volkswagen, is 100kg lighter, significantly more economical and more sophisticated, the seventh Golf faces an onslaught of competition from cheaper and premium models, just as car makers grapple with an economic slump in Europe and slowing growth in China.
In fact, it may not be enough to keep Europe's biggest carmaker on its winning streak, analysts say.
“Success of the new Golf is absolutely critical to VW's expansion targets but the new version will be battling in a tough environment,” said Stefan Bratzel, head of the Centre of Automotive Management think-tank near Cologne, Germany.
Volkswagen is on course to bump General Motors into the world no.3 ranking this year. It aims to sell a world-leading 10 million vehicles by 2018, up from the 8.36 million recorded last year, and push past Toyota.
The new hatchback will boast a range of features aimed at luring buyers away from cheaper rivals made by Hyundai, Skoda and Seat, volume makers including Peugeot Citroen and GM's Opel division, as well as from Audi and BMW at the top end.
The new Golf will be sleeker and more than 100 kilograms lighter than its predecessor, thanks to increased use of ultra-strong steel, making it cheaper to run and cutting emissions.
The 104kW petrol version will produce an average 112 grams of CO2 per kilometer, complying with European Union targets. It will also be 65mm longer and 13mm wider than its predecessor, enlarging the interior to compete more effectively with SUVs and minivans.
To attract luxury buyers, VW is touting a higher quality cockpit finish with more screens and driving assistance gadgets aimed at fending off a sporty replacement of Daimler's Mercedes-Benz A-Class and the new BMW 1-Series introduced last year.
This may still not be enough to keep the competition at bay.
“The European (compact) market is fully saturated and the Golf keeps attracting competition, even from within the VW group,” said Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, director of the Center for Automotive Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen, citing the Audi, Skoda and Seat brands.
“It's no synonym for future growth.”
A risk for VW is that it is building its updated bread-and-butter car on a new modular platform, that will allow it to enhance parts-sharing among its car brands.
While the new technology aims to make production of 3.5 million small- and mid-sized cars 20 percent cheaper, and shorten assembly by 30 percent, the scaling up means any defects could expose VW to the kind of mass recalls that blighted Toyota Motor Corp in 2009-2010.
The updated Audi A3 compact, a competitor from within the VW family stable, will be built using the same cost-saving architecture.
The Golf is so crucial to VW's success that it is the only model the company builds on four continents.
-Reuters & IOL