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New Volkswagen Touareg R PHEV now firming to succeed V8 in Australia as Cupra forces backflip on plug-in hybrids

The Touareg R was initially ruled out for Australia due to its plug-in hybrid powertrain.

Volkswagen has had a change of heart, and it will result in a new range of plug-in hybrids hitting dealerships in Australia, starting with the Volkswagen Touareg R.

Having previously dismissed hybrid - both conventional and plug-ins (PHEVs) - as a bridging technology and instead vowing to focus on battery electric vehicles (EVs), the German brand has changed its mind.

As reported, Spanish performance brand Cupra will introduce a pair of PHEV models in 2022, with the Formentor and Leon getting petrol-electric powertrains, making it the first Volkswagen Group PHEVs in Australia.

Asked why its stance has been reversed, Volkswagen Australia EV spokesman Kurt McGuiness said it was simply a case of opportunity.

"Without being too cute, because we can," he said. "The beauty of having Cupra as a design-focused performance brand makes a big difference as well; we can actually offer these vehicles from a different perspective.

"The other thing is things are changing within our industry as well... to get it on the plate of a big brand like Volkswagen is one thing, but a fast, nimble brand like Cupra is [different]. Let's not forget we've got a model range of three vehicles at this point, it became a viable, possible option."

Mr McGuiness added: "I think the thing is, from a Group perspective, we know electrification is the future. While that may not be the future for every Australian customer right now, our desire is to be able to offer the most efficient [and] clean vehicles across the board. If we have the opportunity to take PHEVs with Cupra, we'll take that."

The confirmation of the Cupra models also reveals that despite the brand's public stance that fuel quality in Australia has been holding back the cleanest and most efficient VW Group models, including PHEVs, that's actually not a technical constraint.

"I guess not in terms of a compatibility perspective," Mr McGuiness said in regards to fuel quality being a roadblock for PHEVs.

Instead, he said the bigger factor has been the smaller range of Cupra makes it easier from a logistics and servicing perspective to get PHEVs in local showrooms.

"When you're looking at a dealer network of 106 dealers and bringing in PHEVs and things like that, there's obviously a whole infrastructure project that comes with doing that," Mr McGuiness explained. "Whereas doing that with Curpa, it's a smaller footprint, it's more manageable."

However, while it may have been easier for Cupra to introduce PHEVs locally, he admitted now the door is open, it allows for Volkswagen and Skoda to look at PHEVs. The Touareg R, which features a 340kW/700Nm powertrain that combines a 3.0-litre V6 turbo petrol engine with an electric motor, is likely to be the first plug-in with a ‘VW' badge to hit Australian showrooms.

"It definitely doesn't hurt," Mr McGuiness conceded. "One of the cars we're very interested in is Touareg R, because the Touareg V8 was only available in very limited numbers. Being able to offer a new, flagship, high-end version of that car makes a lot of sense to us. Having that as a plug-in hybrid is absolutely something we're very interested in from a Volkswagen perspective. It feels like, from a PHEV perspective, the right car."

The Touareg R is likely to only be the first of many Volkswagen PHEVs, too. The impending introduction of Euro7 emissions regulations in Europe in 2026 is widely tipped to end standalone petrol and diesel engine models, in favour of hybrids and EVs.

Asked if that meant VW Australia's showroom would feature a wide variety of PHEVs by the end of the decade Mr McGuiness responded: "Ideally."