Surprise: Volkswagen Names New Midsize Sedan the Passat

First model planned for maker’s new U.S. assembly plant will start at under $20,000.

by on Jan.10, 2011

Volkswagen sticks with the time-tested Passat name for its New Midsize Sedan.

Drum roll, please?  And the name for the sedan that could determine the future of Volkswagen’s U.S. franchise?  Passat.

Say that again?  Passat.  The all-new 4-door, until now known by its codename, NMS, or New Midsize Sedan, is getting a familiar name, the same one that VW has used for nearly two decades.

Nonetheless, the maker asserted, at an invitation-only event prior to the opening of the Detroit Auto Show, the 2012 Passat sold in the U.S. will be a very different car from the sedan bearing that nameplate in the rest of the world.

It will need to be.  VW has very ambitious plans for the U.S., the only major market where it has been stuck in also-ran territory.  By 2018, the maker wants to roughly triple sales volume to 800,000 a year – critical if it expects to meet its corporate goal of displacing Toyota as the world’s largest automaker.

The new European version VW Passat taking its bow at the Paris Motor Show, last September.

But in recent years, American motorists have largely turned their noses up at Volkswagen offerings.  Long-running quality problems have been part of the problem.  The other issue is that VW products just haven’t quite hit the sweet spot of what U.S. motorists want and need.

That has already begun to change with the latest iteration of the Jetta, which was heavily influenced by U.S. market requirements.  But VW says it has gone even further with the NMS, er, Passat.  Though there are obvious similarities to the midsize sedan launched at the Paris Motor Show, last September, there are some apparent differences.

The 2012 Passat will be the first model built at the new Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, TN>

We’ll have to wait for a side-by-side comparison but expect the American model to be larger, roomier – and less expensive.  Fittingly, the U.S. version will be produced at Volkswagen’s all-new plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee – and will carry a base price of less than $20,000.

American buyers will have a choice of three powertrains, including a 2.0-liter clean turbodiesel making 140 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque, and yielding 43 mpg highway mileage.  Also available: a 2.5-liter inline-five gasoline engine making 170 hp and 177 lb-ft, and a top-line 3.5-liter V6 turning out 280 hp and 258 lb-ft.

The U.S. version features a roomier interior designed specifically for the American market.

Dubbed the VR6, that version will be equipped with a 6-speed double-clutch DSG transmission that eliminates the need for a clutch pedal.  That gearbox will be an option on the diesel-powered Passat TDI.  The base 2.5-liter gas powertrain will use a 5-speed stick or optional 6-speed automatic.

Industry analysts contend VW will have to overcome concerns about quality and reliability – which it hopes to do with a 3-year/36,000-mile free maintenance program.  The new Passat will also be expected to deliver plenty of that German engineering.

The new Passat will have some tough competition from the U.S., Japan and Korea.

On the safety side, the 2012 Volkswagen Passat sedan will feature an automatic crash notification system to alert rescue crews in the event of a serious collision.  Six airbags, tire pressure monitoring and electronic stability control also are standard.

We expect to hear more about the new VW Passat – and perhaps more specifics about the differences between the U.S. and European models – at the maker’s Monday news conference at the Detroit Auto Show.

Scheduled to reach American showrooms later this year, the new Passat is the centerpiece of Volkswagen’s $4 billion commitment to rebuild its share of the U.S. market.

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