By Edward Taylor
SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Volkswagen plans to build a fully electric sports utility vehicle (SUV) for China from 2021, taking on the Chinese market leader Tesla's Model X as the German carmaker ramps up production of zero emissions vehicles.
The planned new SUV is the latest move in Volkswagen's aggressive growth strategy in China, where electric cars are given preferential treatment by authorities.
VW said its ID ROOMZZ, which it presented in Shanghai on Sunday, will have three rows of seats and an operating range of up to 450 kms. The concept car is capable of a "level 4 autonomous driving", VW said.
VW Chief Executive Herbert Diess said the ID ROOMZ will be the flagship electric car to be launched by Volkswagen in China.
"We plan to produce more than 22 million electric cars in the next 10 years," Diess said, adding that around half of VW’s engineers were working on products destined for China.
Diess said the ID ROOMZ would eventually be rolled out to other markets.
To enhance the VW Group's research and development capabilities, Volkswagen and its premium brand Audi will combine their R&D operations in China.
VW brand’s head of e-mobility Thomas Ulbrich said the carmaker will start ramping up production of 33 electric cars by mid-2023, using VW Group’s modular electric car (MEB) platform to build electric cars for the Skoda, Seat, Audi and VW brands.
Ulbrich said VW Group is converting 16 factories worldwide to enable mass production of electric vehicles, of which eight plants will be making VW branded cars.
Separately, Volkswagen rival Daimler AG's Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche at an event in Shanghai on Monday unveiled what he called a concept for a compact Mercedes GLB, saying the automaker plans to add the new SUV to its lineup later this year.
Zetsche promised the unveiling of a production version of the GLB with seating for seven by this summer.
The announcement from Zetsche comes as Mercedes has declared 2019 the "year of the SUV", reflecting the growing popularity of such vehicles in the world's largest car market.
(Reporting by Edward Taylor and Joseph White in Shanghai; Editing by Alexander Smith)