Volkswagen AG has launched the Golf-based Touran MPV, a vehicle it hopes will push its sales over the five million mark this year after a flat 2002.

Volkswagen AG has launched the Golf-based Touran MPV, a vehicle it hopes will add impetus to its ageing product line-up and push its sales over the five million mark this year.

The Wolfsburg-based company’s chief executive Bernd Pischetsrieder said Volkswagen aimed to produce 180 000 Tourans this year and sell 130 000 on world markets.

Pischetsrieder is depending on the new seven-seater, the acclaimed Phaeton grand saloon and the Touareg SUV to boost Volkswagen sales at a time when its top-selling Golf is due for replacement and Passat models are beginning to look long in the tooth alongside fresher-faced rivals. reported last year that the Touran was an addition to the Sharan line-up of people movers, but is not part of the actual Golf V lineup. The name “Touran” is derived from the words Tour and Sharan. Tour symbolises long distance comfort for large groups of people, while the ending '-an' is used to indicate Volkswagen's multi-purpose vehicles.

It marks the company's first entry into the compact MPV market segment. It is 4 390 mm long, 1 790 mm wide and 1 630 mm high.

Volkswagen South Africa says there are no plans yet to bring the Touran to the country, but they are looking at all the products in Volkswagen’s range.

The Touran will be available in three equipment and trim versions, and sales will start with a choice of three FSI and TDI engines with a standard six-speed gearbox, developing between 74 kW and 100 kW. Further engine options will be offered later. A six-speed automatic transmission will also be available.

On the safety front, there are active front-seat head restraints, plus front airbags and side airbags for the front and second rows of seats. There are also three-point seatbelts for all seven seats, including ABS, ESP (electronic stabilisation programme) and BAS (brake assist system).

"If this model stands the test, the entire VW group will learn a lot and will see significant efficiency gains," Pischetsrieder said. reported last week that Volkswagen AG sold 4,98 million vehicles last year, around 100 000 fewer than in 2001, and some analysts have criticised it for investing too heavily in luxury models instead of focusing on mass market cars.

"People talk about the Touran as a niche car. But it could develop into a bread-and-butter model for the group," an American analyst told . "It is not a very sexy or appealing car, but for a mass manufacturer like Volkswagen it is something that is desperately needed".

Volkswagen's Wolfsburg plant has a production capacity of 200 000 Touran vehicles a year, but the car is a late arrival in the high-growth minivan segment. Renault will soon launch its second-generation Mégane Scenic and Opel has been selling its Zafira for almost four years and is currently the market leader in Germany.

Pischetsrieder said he expected the Touran to exceed the firm's target of a return on capital of eight per cent in its first year of production.

Original article from Car