American Theme, VW's 2012 Passat PremiereEnlarge Photo
VWoA's CEO Johnathan Browning and True-Blue 2012 PassatEnlarge Photo
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, IntroEnlarge Photo
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 timelessEnlarge Photo
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 KorkerEnlarge Photo
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 insideEnlarge Photo
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 RoomyEnlarge Photo
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 USAEnlarge Photo
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.