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Detroit 2011: 2012 Volkswagen Passat Has Its Premiere


American Theme, VW's 2012 Passat Premiere

American Theme, VW's 2012 Passat Premiere

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VWoA's CEO Johnathan Browning and True-Blue 2012 Passat

VWoA's CEO Johnathan Browning and True-Blue 2012 Passat

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VW's sparkling-new-blue Passat debuted in Detroit.  Percussionists from Scrap Arts Music banged on drums.  Signs said "Think Blue." VW's signature halo-like booth lighting was blue too.  While blue is VW-speak for eco green, the azure hue symbolized another shift:  VW's blue-collar American employees will soon crank out an affordable midsize sedan.

Before the Passat appeared, VW's presented a filmic twist-a Western.  We saw two laconic horseback cowboys roam through the wild, wild West.   Then one spoke: "They're really going to settle here?"   Next, they spy VW's Chattanooga assembly plant.

Jonathan Browning, VWoA's CEO, discussed the latest chapter in VW's American growth story.  He focused on VW's up-to-date factory's eco-friendly features (it cleaned up a former toxic waste site), how it reduces VW's transportation costs and calms currency fluctuations.  He said VW's team learned a lot in the USA.  "By putting down roots in America's heartland," Browning claimed, "Volkswagen is establishing a deeper connection with U.S. customers."

The goal:  "German engineering for all."  He argues VW's faithful American drivers will dig the upcoming Euro-spec Jetta GLI and the potent Golf R.  Nonetheless, VW's portfolio includes models for every purse and every purpose.  This represents a radical shift.  VW wants to be a "relevant" player in America.

He says the 2011 built-for-the-USA Jetta's current success proves that VW is on the move.  During December, the Jetta debuted on the top-ten sales chart.  It's now an American bestseller.  Sixty percent of people buying new Jettas are "conquest" sales, trading in Hondas, Toyotas or Fords.

Big Drums, Intro

Big Drums, Intro

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Ulrich Hackenberg, VWAG's manager, introduced the drum beating the preceded the "biggest Passat ever" world premiere.   VW's line: the American-grown Passat meets "mid-class buyer" needs; it also imparts German values.  With its "timeless exterior, with coupe-like body line," new factory and highly trained workforce, the new Passat will "save twice."   Its entry-level price is about $20,000; there's a thrifty diesel version (43 mpg highway).  Other choices:  VW's 170-hp 2.5-liter in-line five, a 3.6-liter 280-hp VR6.

Designer Bischoff says Passat's shape is timeless

Designer Bischoff says Passat's shape is timeless

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With a comfortable interior and the premium Fender sound system (Germans mined this tie-in???), VW's midsize sedan is attuned to the American buyer's needs.

VW sales chief Klaus Klingler and Senator Bob Korker

VW sales chief Klaus Klingler and Senator Bob Korker

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True Blue?

Joined by two Volkswagen Club of America sidekicks, Tom and Lynn, I got the lowdown on what makes this VW appealing.  First, Tom says the car indeed looks like a Passat, inside and out.  Glossy paint on interior metal panels including trunk lid, doors and engine bay enhance the car's neatly stamped body pieces-a long-time VW trait, not the dull-finish treatment found on most cars.

Laptop of Luxury
It looks Euro-chic inside

It looks Euro-chic inside

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Lynn raves about its lebensraum.  Indeed, five full-size adults fit.  Rear occupants can cross their legs.  Each mid-to-upper tier Passat we saw had American-made and American-desired cup holders with luxury-grade dashboard, accents and furnishings.  There's a pleasant blend of soft-touch materials and sculpted sophistication.  Even the seats sported German driver-oriented side bolstering.

Laptop of Luxury, It's Roomy

Laptop of Luxury, It's Roomy

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Your correspondent, however, noticed some cost cutting.  The last-generation Passat had electronic parking brakes, self-supporting hood, heavenly head liner, elegantly shaped trunk hinges, chilled glove box, face-level rear ventilation and even Bentley-like umbrella slot in the driver's door.  The American Passat has a prop-rod hood, plain trunk hinges and some plastic-clad inner-pillar covers.  Missing:  rear face vents.  Yet, the three-side window silhouette with glossy window surrounds (not contact paper) impressed.

In the power department, the 200-hp turbo four isn't available.

VW is Back in the USA

VW is Back in the USA

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In short, it looks like VW's product planners found a sweet spot.  If the production version improves tail lamp and bumper fitment, VW will then offer an American-size interior size with European flair.  It might be what the people want.

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