Volkswagen has unveiled a new version of the Passat — currently its No. 2 seller worldwide after the Golf — for the European market that has controls that would make a fighter jet pilot feel at home and is positioned as a luxury car for the masses.
“This is a car that aspires to be a premium model without a premium price," proclaimed CEO Martin Winterkorn at VW’s design center in Potsdam. “Call the strategy luxury for the common Volk,” quipped the Wall Street Journal’s William Boston.
The price “is likely to start at around 26,000 euros ($35,350) after taxes when it goes on sale,” reports Forbes contributor Neil Winton.
“The Passat is going to give a boost to the entire VW brand,” Winterkorn proclaimed.
Although the VW brand has been booming in China, sales have been “sluggish” in Europe, where it is “losing market share to rivals Renault, Ford and GM. In the U.S., VW sales fell 13% in the first half of the year. In South America, sales plunged 21%,” reports Boston.
The automaker has faced increasing competition from luxury carmakers such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz, which have been offering more affordable models — and enticing lease deals — in recent years.
In addition, “sales of big European sedans like the Passat, Ford Mondeo, Opel-Vauxhall Insignia and Peugeot 508 have suffered because of the popularity of high-riding, roomy, four-wheel-drive SUVs among private buyers, although the core purchasers of mainly company cars like this still remain,” points out Forbes’ Winton, who expects that the car will do much better in China.
The eighth-generation Passat truly has been redesigned “from the ground up,” writes Scott Collie on Gizmag and “to write it off as a mere update would sell VW short.”
Among other features, the car’s “‘premium’ silhouette is coupled with slimmer, wider LED taillights that are designed to emphasize the width of the car.” It also has adaptive headlights, a parking-assist program and “all of the Passat's engines are new to the model range, and are up to 20% more efficient than the units they replace.”
Not to mention a control panel that evidently will bring out the Steve Canyon in many a grown man.
“The mainstream model will be VW’s first car available with a head-up display,” reports Bloomberg’s Elisabeth Behrmann. “The system — similar to features pioneered on planes like the F-16 — projects data such as speed and navigation instructions onto a retractable screen over the steering wheel to keep the driver’s focus on the road. Other high-tech safety options include functions that can bring the car autonomously to a halt if the driver falls asleep.”
Volkswagen has a lot even greater expectations riding on the new model on its ongoing quest to become the industry’s global sales leader by 2018. “The Passat is going to give a boost to the entire VW brand,” said CEO Winterkorn.
“The battleground for the VW brand is to effectively draw a line where premium stops and mass market begins,” Mike Tyndall, an analyst at Barclays Capital in London told Bloomberg’s Behrmann and “should bring ‘a meaningful improvement’ to VW’s profit.”
The Passat will be formally launched at the Paris Auto Show in October and go on sale in Germany shortly thereafter, reports Kelley Blue Book’s Bob Nagy. A U.S. version probably won’t be available until 2017 or 2018 although “VW has confirmed ‘an aggressive facelift’ and enhanced features for the 2016 model,” he writes.
“We will come up with an answer for the U.S. soon,” said VW sales head Christian Klingler.
“Why is this important for America, you ask?” asks Autoweek’s Sam Thetard. “While the chances are slim that this exact variant will come stateside, this new Passat offers a preview of what future VW products will most likely look like…. To our eyes, the Euro Passat is one attractive sedan, which can only bode well for the future.”
You can view a video for the Passat here.
The Irish Independent’s Eddie Cunningham was struck by Winterkorn’s comments at the unveiling that the car is a “showpiece for Germany and Europe as automotive centers that shows what we are capable of.”
“He said something else which stayed with me,” Cunningham continued. “The Passat is ‘an executive car that doesn't cause envy.’ He meant it isn't flashy and in-your-face. Kinda like saying: ‘I've arrived but I don't need to wear Armani.’”