Two of the most technically-advanced cars in the world are set to spearhead a drive to capture a 10% share of the UK new car market for Volkswagen. If Vincent Kinner, head of fleet, has his way, the luxury models will play a crucial role in helping the company achieve its ambition of becoming Britain's premier fleet brand (an ambition endorsed by the firm being named Fleet Manufacturer of the Year for two years running at the Fleet News Awards).
Representing the opening salvo of a campaign to build on its current 7% share of UK sales, the Touareg will herald unequalled levels of customer care when it goes on sale next month from 50 specially-selected luxury car centres.
Kinner said: 'Dedicated account managers will help buyers specify the version they want and these people will then become the customer's point of reference for all future requirements. Technicians are being put through nine weeks of training before they are able to work on this car and servicing will be arranged to suit the owner, rather than the dealer. It's the start of a new way of doing business.'
A second raft of 30 centres will come on stream in June to offer similar bespoke facilities to buyers of the Phaeton, the first luxury saloon to wear the Volkswagen badge. But while each group of centres will focus on only one of the upmarket cars, either will be able to service both ranges.
Kinner said: 'Only 300 examples of the 2,500 Touareg models we expect to sell this year have been designated for the fleet sector, but this is a notional figure and I think we've under-estimated it in a big way. Only 150 examples of the Phaeton will come to the UK this year and just 30 have been set aside for fleet. But one of my customers is already asking for 20, so it seems that having the Volkswagen badge on a luxury car is not the difficult proposition that some people have imagined.
'My aim is to use these cars to lift our brand. Volkswagen is already seen as being more upmarket than other volume brands. As well as reinforcing that position, the Touareg and Phaeton will allow us to make a massive advance in our customer services.
'I don't see why the level of care and attention given to buyers of the most expensive models can't cascade down to Passat and Golf buyers.'
The Touareg will be launched with a choice of 3.2-litre V6 and 4.2-litre V8 petrol engines. The diesel option will be between a five-cylinder 2.5-litre unit in the entry-level version and a five-litre V10-cylinder unit – thought to be the most powerful diesel engine yet fitted to a production car.
Full pricing has yet to be confirmed, but the entry-level car is expected to cost £28,635 in manual to compete head-on with the new Volvo XC90. The range is also claimed to offer higher specification and better safety levels than the cars Volkswagen regards as its broader competitors, the BMW X5 and the Range Rover.
Volkswagen GB head of luxury model strategy Rod McLeod said: 'We benchmarked the X5 for ability on-road and the Range Rover for ability off-road. The result is a class-leading product that appears to be capable of achieving class-leading residual values. Our sales will reach 3,700 next year and that's a significant number because it will make the Touareg more popular than the Sharan MPV.'
By the end of next year, a 225bhp, six-cylinder turbodiesel will join the line-up, along with an ultra-performance variant. Powered by a 414bhp, W12 engine capable of reaching 60mph in 6.4 seconds, the Touareg W12 should cost less than £60,000.
Equipment across all models includes dual climate control, twin front and front seat side airbags, curtain airbags, alloy wheels, split-fold rear seats, central locking, a separate opening rear screen, cruise control, 10-speaker CD, on-board computer, multifunction steering wheel and a crash-sensing automatic door unlocking system. Options include air suspension, satellite navigation, keyless entry and start, park distance control, power closing for the rear hatchback and a memory pack controlling seats, steering column, seat belt height and mirrors.