After generations of Passat sedans designed more to European tastes and needs, Volkswagen finally let loose in 2011 with a larger and less costly model engineered specifically with the North American market's tastes in mind. The Chattanooga, TN-built four door launched well on the strength of a couple of awards and serendipitous supply problems for VW's Japanese rivals, but it has since lost some of its sales momentum as a number of newer and fresher-faced competitors have emerged on the scene.

"We are quite aware that we have to do something to keep the car fresh in the market."

VW is keen to recapture some of the Passat's initial momentum, and officials believe it's going to have to dig a little bit deeper than its traditionally minimal midlife retouches in order to put the model on more consumers' shopping lists. We sat down at a roundtable with Michael Horn, VW Group of America CEO and Dr. Heinz-Jakob Neußer, head of VW Group powertrain development at the Geneva Motor Show today, and the executives confirmed that a "big facelift" is coming for the 2016 model year. "We are quite aware that we have to do something to keep the car fresh in the market," said Horn, who notes that the redesigned model will incorporate "a lot of new features, drivers' assistance systems and so forth."

No powertrain alterations were disclosed, but at the very least, there could be some significant visual changes in store. In fact, more significant mid-cycle changes could become the norm for VW, which traditionally has limited its alterations to things like modestly new light fixtures, wheel patterns and paint finishes. VW sees larger changes as a growing necessity, believing that it needs to shift the longer lifecycle philosophy it has had success with in Europe and in China. The expectations of US customers are "a little bit different," argues Dr. Neußer, "...they need a little bit shorter reworks of the car. Perhaps not so deep within the technical side, but more oriented to a fresh outside, to fresh designs. We are actually changing our philosophy on this."

The current Passat's crisply tailored looks have aged well, but they've also been dinged for being too restrained and derivative of the smaller and less expensive North American Jetta. Noting that some competitors have recently been taking bigger aesthetic chances in the historically conservative family sedan segment, Neußer acknowledged, "We are a little more conservative, but very precise. But we will move a little bit more into the direction [of progressive design] ... but not a u-turn, a correction."



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  • 43 Comments
      Alex740
      • 9 Months Ago
      Seems like they are overthinking it and completely missing the point. In my mind VWs sold well because they weren't built for the American mass market but for the buyer that wanted something a little nicer, a bit more fun to drive and better aesthetics that the bland marketing panel approved cars coming from other brands. Despite the poor reliability reputation VW had cache that attracted cosumers that wanted something with a more European mindset and by designing to the mass market here without the reputation for reliability they aren't getting the mass market or their historic buyers either.
        montoym
        • 9 Months Ago
        @Alex740
        VW still offers the Golf and CC to those buyers who want the traditional German qualities and cache while the Jetta and Passat were redesigned to appeal to more American tastes. So, what occurred? Americans overwhelming went for the "Americanized" vehicles as the sales of those vehicles increased dramatically after they were redesigned. I'm just glad they still offer a choice, it would be a Golf for me for sure.
      djrroar1
      • 9 Months Ago
      VW has sold over 400,000 units in the U.S. the last 2 years, that is the first time that has ever occurred. They do need to reconsider how quickly they refresh their vehicles, put more content in their vehicles and they need to bring in a competitive compact SUV/CUV and a mid sized SUV/CUV to really make volume progress. The Jetta and the Passat have all new powertrains, gas and diesel this year and are better cars tan they were when introduced. Their TDI models are their best offers today. They should also increase the factory warranty to 5/60,000 full coverage and 10/120,000 powertrain, they say they are building better vehicles now they should stand behind them.
      hboi18
      • 9 Months Ago
      halogens need to go...
      Master Austin
      • 9 Months Ago
      Well you know the person that thought of making a NA-only Passat that is selling around 6-7K a month is probably getting fired for that idea. Passats design is too bland and is being compared with Camry/Accord in blandness, but with the reliability of a KIA/Hyundai so it's not working for them.
        montoym
        • 9 Months Ago
        @Master Austin
        Compared to the 3,000 or so per month it was selling before? No, the US Passat did exactly what it was meant to do, increase sales of that model, and it did so greatly. Now they just need to continue to make it competitive. It was fine when it came out in 2011, but now the market is full of new and freshened product and they are making changes to continue to compete. As I've said many times before, the Camry/Accord may be bland/boring, but that does sell regardless of what you believe. The Camry/Accord combined for 775k sales last year in the US alone. No, boring cars don't sell at all. Name one so-called "exciting" model that can come even close to 300-400k sales per year.
      John
      • 9 Months Ago
      aka a "panic refresh."
        montoym
        • 9 Months Ago
        @John
        The car came out in 2011, 5yrs later counts as a "panic refresh". LOL
      Matt
      • 9 Months Ago
      Passat is one of the few midsize sedans that doesn't have available HID headlights. This is a must-have safety feature for me, and I would never consider a vehicle without them. I can't believe VW continues to sell a volume model without offering them.
        superchan7
        • 9 Months Ago
        @Matt
        I hope you live in the countryside with poor street lighting. In urbanised areas HIDs are a nuisance in my rear view mirrors. Problem is, everyone loves the way they look... ...including me.
        BrianD
        • 9 Months Ago
        @Matt
        I agree for $35K it should
        Matt
        • 9 Months Ago
        @Matt
        I do live in a somewhat rural area. And HIDs have saved me from at least 3 collisions with deer. I travel in urban areas all the time, so I like car features that are relevant to the city (backup cameras, parking sensors, etc). Do those of you that live in cities never go enjoy the great outdoors? Camping, skiing, boating, hiking, etc?
      Vinny68
      • 9 Months Ago
      I like the Passat's conservative style. It sounds like I would like the new turbo 4. The content and price in the Passat are great. The only thing that keeps me from buying one is concerns about reliability.At this point in time I just wouldn't spend my own money on one.
      txdesign
      • 9 Months Ago
      Current Passat is really hard to tell from the Jetta. VW needs to infuse some character back into its product line.
      Eraun Petry
      • 9 Months Ago
      Bixenon headlights... you cant charge over $25k for a car that can only have halogen headlights. period
        hboi18
        • 9 Months Ago
        @Eraun Petry
        Not only do they make the car look modern....they are so much safer at night
      LMI500
      • 9 Months Ago
      They need something! I used to be a huge fan of VW's, but they went the way of a bland appliance(aka Toyota)and went for global domination, along with greed($$$). So in turn they alienated customers like me, I looked elsewhere because when you make the Jetta and Passat into pretty much the same car, I'm going to look for excitement somewhere else. I'm sure I will take flak for my comments, but oh well, just my opinion.
      LaBaht
      • 9 Months Ago
      For god's sakes, could they attempt a steering wheel that is centered for the driver! I was going to replace my similarly-priced Jetta with one until I noticed the steering wheel was off-center by a lot. I thought the salesman at the Calgary Auto show was going to punch me when I mentioned it in front of a gentleman about to sign on the dotted line. It was hilarious watching his wife drag him back to sit in it for a closer inspection. I love VW, but details like that are inexcusable. For those who own a new Passat and haven't noticed this, I am SO SORRY (I'm Canadian. I have to apologize at least once. jk)
        Alex740
        • 9 Months Ago
        @LaBaht
        There are other VAG products that have off center steering wheels, the Audi Q5 is another, that's cost cutting for you.
        Karfreek
        • 9 Months Ago
        @LaBaht
        Waaaay back in the day my now wife had a 1990 Pontiac Trans Sport, they had an offset steering wheel. I could not stand it!!!
      NeutronStar73
      • 9 Months Ago
      I think that vbxncma3904.cvaniv;rfd........zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz Oh snap! I fell asleep at my keyboard looking at that Passat. What was I about to say? Oh yeah...BORING styling that has no problem putting me to sleep. And given all the horror stories about VW reliability AND repair costs? No way.
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