published Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

VW Passat family growing; wider line may bolster Chattanooga plant

DETROIT DEBUTS

Volkswagen announced a variety of concepts and new vehicles for the U.S. market in Detroit:

• Passat BlueMotion Concept

• Passat Sport

• Beetle Dune Concept

• E-Golf

• Golf R

• New SUV for 2016

  • photo
    The Volkswagen Beetle Dune concept car is unveiled featuring ski mounts on the roof of the hatch Monday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Mich.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

DETROIT — The Volkswagen Passat family is growing -- a move that could bolster production of the midsize sedan at the company's Chattanooga plant.

Volkswagen, in a flurry of new vehicle debuts at the North American International Auto Show, on Monday unveiled a concept of the Chattanooga-made Passat that the automaker said will achieve best-in-class fuel efficiency for a nonhybrid car in the United States.

The Passat BlueMotion Concept can reach an estimated highway fuel-economy rating of 42 mpg, using an array of new technology, VW says.

Later this week, VW will show publicly for the first time the new 2014 Passat Sport model, which fits into the automaker's lineup between the SE and SEL versions.

This version of the Passat comes with fog lights, a rear spoiler and 19-inch aluminum wheels, with three shades of paint available: Candy White, Tungsten Silver and a color that is exclusive to the Passat Sport called Urano Gray.

That car is to arrive in dealer showrooms in early 2014.

Michael Horn, Volkswagen of America's new chief executive, said it's unknown yet whether the BlueMotion Concept will actually make it to dealer showrooms.

Carmakers often roll out concept cars at auto shows and weigh reactions from the media and public before deciding whether to produce the cars.

"If people like it, we'll see," said Horn, who personally introduced the concept at VW's news conference at the show. "It's a great-looking car." The BlueMotion Concept features a new Passat color -- Reef Blue Metallic.

VW, like all automakers, is looking to meet more stringent government fuel economy requirements.

Under U.S. regulations, a fleet of cars and trucks will have to average 54.5 mpg by 2025. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2012 averaged 23.6 miles per gallon in city and highway driving.

VW and its midsize Passat already benefit from its fuel-stingy diesel engine model.

  • photo
    Michael Horn, incoming president and CEO of Volkswagen of America, speaks about the Passat Blue Motion concept Monday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Mich.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Frank Fischer, the Chattanooga plant's chief, noted that the Passat TDI set a new world's record of 77 mpg last year in a planned drive by professionals. He said buyers are attracted to the diesel version, noting that about 35 percent of all Passat sales last year were TDIs.

"It's a true success story," he said, adding there is "absolutely room for growth" on the sales side.

Horn said that introducing different versions of the Passat helps in terms of providing product range.

"How do you keep [the car] vivid?" he asked, noting that changing engines and offering special versions help to do that.

In the BlueMotion Concept, VW uses a smaller engine than its typical 1.8-liter, 4-cylinder power plant. And, the German automaker said it's the first in the world to offer cylinder-deactivation technology in a 4-cylinder engine. All of that technology helps the vehicle reach the high fuel efficiency, according to VW.

The 2014 Passat Sport will cost $27,295 with the standard manual gearbox, VW said. An automatic transmission adds $1,200 to the price.

In addition to possibly adding two new Passats to production, Horn and other VW officials are encouraged about assembly of a new SUV for North America for 2016. Chattanooga is said to be the front-runner to make that vehicle as it competes with VW's facilities in Mexico.

Martin Winterkorn, VW's CEO, on Monday again cited the new SUV at the news conference as the company takes new action to grow sales in the U.S. after they fell about 7 percent in 2013.

"We're pretty satisfied with the way 2014 started in the U.S.," Winterkorn said.

  • photo
    Volkswagen unveiled the Passat BlueMotion Concept on Monday at the North American International Auto Show. The company says the car can get up to 42 miles per gallon.
    enlarge photo

He noted that the U.S. market is the cornerstone of its 2018 strategy to grow VW and Audi sales from about 600,000 last year to 1 million in four years.

"The Volkswagen Group is staying on course worldwide and in North America," Winterkorn said.

Also Monday, VW introduced a version of its popular Beetle, the Dune. While it's a concept car now, the Beetle has what VW calls "a wide, cool, rugged off-road look."

In addition, VW rolled out a new Golf R for the U.S., which can go from zero to 62 mph in 5.1 seconds, according to the carmaker.

"It's a real sports car," said Horn. "I've got one in my garage."

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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