Detroit Drama (and Disappointment) over New VW Passat

2012 U.S. Passat

Above headline should read: Volkswagen Designers Replaced by Accountants at CAD Terminals. Which is only a slight exaggeration, because you can bet the bean counters were in on the process throughout. The new Passat, which just debuted in Detroit, looks like a Chevy Malibu.

The idea seems to be to get the car’s price down to the low-$20K range and homogenize its looks to compete with the Accord and Camry. The new version is longer than the current Passat and will be built at VW’s new Chattanooga plant.

The company has ambitious plans to sell 800,000 cars in the U.S. by 2018. To do that, they seem to think, you cater to the lowest common denominator of American taste, create another bland car to go with the boring new Jetta, and fill it with all the electro-goodies our people seem to love. That is, you make a German Camry.

I wish them luck. With Hyundai now firmly in the picture, plus GM and Ford revived, VW is entering the highest-competition segment of the market. The oldest rule in marketing is to stress your point of difference with the competition, and the new Jetta and Passat seem to do just the opposite.

The 2010 and older Passats are good cars, well designed and popular abroad. I see lots of sexy Passat CCs in Mexico, where Volkswagen is the house brand, like Chevy used to be in the U.S. I had an ’86 Passat wagon that I enjoyed greatly. There are no current plans to produce a new Passat wagon (2010 version at right).

VW’s ability to penetrate the U.S. market depends, in my opinion, on three things:

  • not competing on price
  • countering its poor quality image
  • and marketing its cars as European vehicles that fit American needs.

But in fact they seem to be going about these tasks ass-backwards, to coin a phrase. They have missed the market before, and while the 2012 Passat seems to be well engineered, with good engine choices, I don’t see how they can meet their sales goals with this car in the stable.

The new Jetta is selling fairly well. Do you think the new Passat will catch on?

—jgoods

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10 Comments

  1. Wow- what a boring piece of crap. Congrats VW- you successfully cloned a 15 year old Ford Taurus. Although a 15 year old Taurus will still be more reliable than any VW…

  2. What a huge mistake and the wrong direction for VW. Americans are no longer leaning towards bland, cheap econoboxes. Brands like Kia are making high quality, high content cars that look great and bring on a sense of emotion at a fair price. VW always had the emotion part right. They just needed to get the pricing and accessability right. Now they’ve lost the emotion and got the pricing right. Camry and Accord drivers won’t leave their brands for this, and current VW owners will be disappointed. I know I am. Mine will be my last VW.

  3. I’ve got to say it’s the first VW I’ve seen in a long time that doesn’t look like a VW. Frankly, VW has been a niche product for a long time and much of the reason is the styling, and this car looks much more mainstream. We’ll see, but I think the new Passat will be the best selling Passat of all.

  4. “VW’s ability to penetrate the U.S. market depends, in my opinion, on three things:

    not competing on price
    countering its poor quality image
    and marketing its cars as European vehicles that fit American needs.”

    Agree with these three points as well as your assessment. Perhaps they know something we don’t but it doesn’t bode well for the driver experience that many of us prefer.

  5. Chevy Malibu…really? I was thinking it looks just like an Impala. Disappointed, to say the least.

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