Next-gen VW Phaeton to debut in Detroit?

The next Phaeton will be longer and lighter than the current model.

If at first you don't succeed, try again: Volkswagen is set to debut a new flagship sedan at next January's North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

However, the Phaeton set to grace next year's Detroit show stage might not actually be a production-bound model. Instead, the automaker is reportedly planning to gauge consumer reaction to the big, Audi A8-based VW-badged sedan.

The Phaeton's reintroduction comes in response to demand from the top of VW's executive hierarchy as the automaker seeks to expand its presence in the U.S.

"A brand as large as Volkswagen needs a halo project in the upscale segment," VW CEO Martin Winterkorn told Bloomberg.

Winterkorn is said to be less-than-thrilled with VW's sales performance in the U.S.; a few years ago, the automaker set an ambitious goal of selling 800,000 cars here in 2018, but a slower-than-expected product rollout and middling consumer response to its Jetta and Passat sedans has analysts from IHS Automotive estimating that the automaker will miss its target by 35 percent.

Though the Phaeton would hardly be a volume model, Winterkorn seems to view it as a way to draw potential buyers into showrooms. But VW is aiming to gain more ground with its next-generation Tiguan compact/midsize crossover as well as a three-row crossover based on the Crossblue concept car it showed at the Detroit show earlier this year.

What we know so far

Ulrich Hackenberg, VW's chief of research and development, confirmed late last year that the next-gen Phaeton will be offered in the United States shortly after it debuts in Europe.

The next Phaeton will ride on the same platform as the Audi A8 and it will be largely built out of aluminum in order to shed as much weight as possible. The car will also grow a little, with the short-wheelbase variant expected to stretch no less than 196 inches long.

To increase the behemoth's green credentials, Volkswagen will drop big displacement engines in favor of smaller ones equipped with several turbochargers. Rumors claim that a plug-in hybrid drivetrain will be offered to further reduce emissions, but the German automaker has yet to confirm this.

Like the current model, the next Phaeton will be aimed at a low-key target audience.

"The new one will have the same positioning [as the old one]: a straightforward sedan for the person who's successful but doesn't feel the need to show it. Volkswagen doesn't change course between generations of a car. It's always easier to keep the customers you have than to lose them and go find new ones," explained a company insider in an interview with German magazine Auto, Motor Und Sport late last year.

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