Volkswagen has used today’s Detroit motor show to unveil the new Passat, developed for the United States and set to be manufactured there, in Tennessee, in preparation for a massive sales push this summer.
At 4.868m long, it is just over 10cm longer than the European Passat saloon, a little wider, and the largest car ever to carry that badge.
However, the new US-market Passat is just the start of a product blitz for VW in America, confirmed the company’s US boss, Jonathan Browning.
A large seven-seat SUV, designed exclusively for America, is at the top of the list of new cars to allow the company hits its US sales targets. Brit-born Browning has aggressive plans to quadruple VW’s US sales to one million cars by 2018.
The company still has no plans to attack the domestic makers with a pick-up truck. “A pick-up is not at the top of our priority list. Not even by importing the Argentina-built Amarok,” he told Autocar.
Unlike Jettas in the US, which get simpler rear suspension set-ups than the European versions, the new American Passat has a multi-link rear suspension that’s similar to the models sold in the UK. Every body panel has been changed, though, and the dashboard, door trims and major switchgear is all new.
The decision to localise production at a facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee, should allow VW to trim several thousand dollars off the starter price. The firm estimates that entry-level variants will cost from $20,000 (£12,850).
Browning is also considering the possibility of selling smaller cars, such as the Polo. “A Polo for the USA is a possibility for the future, but it’s not in current plans. Though it does depend on gas prices and US economy regulations, I would like to extend the range down and up,” he said.
Any future US VW is likely to be made in America to offset currency fluctuations. Company insiders believe that a larger SUV could be built at the same Tennessee factory as the Passat. The plant currently has a capacity to build 150,000 cars per year, but with extensions that could be pushed to 500,000, according to plant boss Frank Fischer.
Three engines will be offered in the US Passat. The base unit is a 2.5-litre five-cylinder petrol motor producing 168bhp at 5700rpm. With a manual transmission it can take the Passat to 60mph in 8.2sec; the more likely choice for US buyers, a six-speed auto, does the same in 8.7sec.
The other petrol motor is a 3.6-litre six-cylinder unit with 276bhp at 6200rpm and 258lb ft of torque. It gets a DSG dual-clutch gearbox as standard and can reach 60mph in 6.5sec.
The oil-burner option is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder common-rail turbodiesel producing 138bhp. VW claims it can go from 0-60mph in 9.3sec, return 43mpg and travel for around 800 miles on a single tank.
Although the regular Passat saloon has been adapted specifically for American buyers, the CC ‘coupé’ version is considered a success in the US, so it will continue to be sold in its current form.
Expansions for VW in America will not include introducing European brands such as Skoda and Seat. Browning has ruled out either being transferred, on grounds on cost and viability. It's also unlikely that any US-made VW will make its way to Europe, although the new Passat or SUV could be sold in other markets.
John McIlroy and Chas Hallett