FRANKFURT (Reuters) -- Volkswagen Group is using the new-generation Tiguan, its top-selling SUV, to fight back in a slowing Chinese market and return its focus to cars after being plagued by leadership issues.
VW's most significant new model in 2015 may provide relief to the German carmaker, which has had to deal with a top-level internal power struggle as well as public debate about cost cuts at its troubled Volkswagen brand.
The company proposed earlier this month to extend the contract of CEO Martin Winterkorn and to make finance chief Hans Dieter Poetsch its next chairman. The move was criticized by some analysts as a missed opportunity to overhaul Europe's biggest automotive company with new leaders, five months after former Chairman Ferdinand Piech quit in a power struggle with Winterkorn over strategy.
"We are in the middle of setting the course for the next decade," Winterkorn said an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published on Saturday. "That is nothing less than the reinvention of Volkswagen."
The first overhaul of the Tiguan since its 2007 launch heralds a raft of new SUVs and crossovers VW plans to field in the coming years in the world's fastest-growing vehicle segment, two sources at VW said. Analysts said a lighter and sportier version of the compact SUV, which debuts at the Frankfurt auto show this week, may help limit the damage in China -- VW's and the world's biggest market -- where a decline in Volkswagen car sales has been accelerating since March.
The Tiguan is China's best-selling non-domestic compact SUV and only trails Great Wall Motors' Haval H6 in the vehicle class, according to research firm IHS Automotive.
"New product is key in tough times," said Stefan Bratzel, head of the Center of Automotive Management think-tank near Cologne. "The new Tiguan is giving VW a good break, also from the strife in management."
"VW is buying time until it has resolved its structural problems," Bratzel said. "They are almost in crisis mode."
The carmaker is redrawing its structure to overcome underperformance abroad and boost profits and will reveal the steps it plans to take later this year.
The new pecking order of VW's leadership will also be on show in Frankfurt, together with the new Tiguan.
New brand chief Herbert Diess will be in the limelight on Monday for the first time since joining VW in July, alongside fellow executives.
After spending more than two decades at the helm of the German carmaker, Piech is expected to miss the show, a source at VW said.
"We have had more speculation about personnel this year than in Winterkorn's entire [eight-year] term of office," one of the VW sources said. "The new Tiguan will help us steer the focus back to cars."