Dzemal Sjenar has a dream job: He dreams up cars for a living. For 25 years, the engineer from Bosnia has been developing concept cars at Volkswagen. The concept cars are put on display at car shows, are discussed with journalists, or, in a more formal setting, in “clinics,” where hopefully representative groups of people are asked what they like and don’t like in that concept. If the dream cars evoke the desired feelings, the dreams become reality.
We meet Sjenar at Volkswagen’s Automobil Forum in Berlin, a permanent car show near Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. He shows us his latest creation, the Cross Blue Coupé, a midsized SUV that is based on Volkswagen’s new MQB kit architecture.
The SUV is “targeted at the American market,” says Sjenar, “and the Chinese market– they have similar tastes in SUVs.” Appropriately, the midsized dream of a SUV was shown at the Detroit and Shanghai auto shows.
The concept triggered the proper feelings: Everybody expects that the production version of the CrossBlue will be built at Volkswagen’s U.S. factory in Chattanooga, which is “MQB ready,” I heard in Wolfsburg.
Among the uninitiated, kit architectures trigger associations of badge engineering and boring uniformity. “Quite the opposite is true,” says Sjenar. “The kit inspires creativity. We don’t have to worry so much about the technical details anymore, we can focus on form and function.” The SUV definitely does not look like Golf Mk7 or the new Audi A3, which also share the MQB kit architecture.
“Each time, we start at zero,” Sjenar describes the creative process that ends in a real, drivable car. “We never have enough time. There always are new ideas and many changes.”
Environmentally correct, the CrossBlue was shown as a plug-in hybrid. Fully charged, it can go 21 miles in EV mode. It also can make electricity: A blue German-type socket provides a hefty 16 amps at 220 volts. The CrossBlue had a diesel-electric powertrain in Detroit, and a gasoline-electric engine in Shanghai. The production model most likely will be available with regular engines.
The CrossBlue stands on huge 22 inch wheels. With a very short overhang and a long roofline, the SUV looks masculine, but not macho. It has two sharp creases in the sides. In the concept car, the creases are made from plastic. In the real thing, they will need to be stamped into the metal. Asked whether this challenging design will make it into production, Sjenar says: “We’ll see.” Under the hood, orange ductwork gives the impression of red-hot power transmission between the V6 TSI engine end the electrified parts of the powertrain. “Designers,” Sjenar grovels.
Sjenar builds the concept cars with a team of 15 people in a shop tucked away in the super-secret parts of the R&D center in the northwest corner of Volkswagen’s sprawling Wolfsburg manufacturing complex. Each concept comes with the hopes that it will see production. Sjenar’s last concept to make it into series was the Tiguan. The CrossBlue stands good chances that it will be Sjenar’s next.