2016 Volkswagen Passat: A Little Passion, Please

March 10, 2014 at 7:00 pm by | Photography by Michael Simari

2014 Volkswagen Passat Sport 1.8T

Volkswagen’s Geneva auto show array of new and freshened sheetmetal had limited relevance to the U.S. market, where the company’s sales have been declining recently in the midst of generally robust performance by most other participants. The U.S. Passat, in particular, has been disappointing. Designed specifically for U.S. buyers and built in a new U.S. plant, the mid-size sedan posted strong sales in 2012, but fell off in the second half of 2013 and is down again the first two months of this year.

What’s the problem? Could it be cosmetic? Judging by the chatter from a Geneva round-table discussion including auto writers, VW Group powertrain development chief Dr. Heinz-Jakob Neusser, and Michael Horn, the new CEO at VW of America, the short answer could be yes.

Although the U.S. Passat attracted buyers with its roominess, smooth performance, and comprehensive array of powertrain choices, its cautiously formal styling was soon upstaged by the eyeball-grabbing design of mid-size competitors such as the Ford Fusion and Honda Accord. Accordingly, when the Passat is freshened for the 2016 model year, the changes could be more dramatic than the usual minor facelift.

Dr. Neusser admitted that the Passat and other Volkswagens could benefit from shorter product cycles for U.S. customers, “more oriented to fresh outside designs.” Refraining from specifics, Mr. Horn acknowledged the upcoming Passat makeover. “We are quite aware that we have to do something to keep the car fresh in the market,” he said. Beyond cosmetics, that will include “a lot of new features, driver’s assistance systems and so forth.”

In an earlier interview, VW CEO Martin Winterkorn acknowledged the need for a new U.S. product philosophy. “The biggest problem we Germans have,” he said, “is that we think we know what the Americans want from us.” That thinking appears to be on the threshold of change.                                                          


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Written by Lewis Shaw

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