In terms of styling, the new Volkswagen Passat looks like a small VW Phaeton, but mechanically it is just a much bigger VW Golf.
It was 10 percent cheaper to base the new Passat on the PQ35 architecture than using another architecture, says VW group CEO Bernd Pischetsrieder. VW group uses the PQ35 architecture for a number of models including the VW Touran and Golf, Audi A3, Skoda Octavia, Seat Altea and the upcoming new Seat Leon.
That's a change from the strategy used for the old-generation Passat. It shared its longitudinal-engine architecture with the Audi A4 and A6.
The transverse-engine layout of the PQ35 architecture made it easier for the Passat to comply with EU pedestrian safety rules that affect front-end design.
VW's definition of architecture is linked mainly to the use of common modules and systems instead of the sheet metal commonality typical of a platform. The Passat and Golf share almost nothing in terms of sheet metal.
The new Passat and Golf share: the entire powertrain, complete front suspension, the rear suspension design -- but not the rear axle itself because the Passat is wider -- steering column, fuel tank and seat structures.
"About 50 percent of the two cars' value is common," says Wilfried Bockelmann, head of VW brand engineering.
Passat leads shrinking segment
The Passat is the VW brand's key model. Its sales generate about two-thirds of the brand's operating profit.
VW is the longtime leader of the upper-medium segment in Europe, but the segment has been shrinking for years.
Using Automotive News Europe's market segmentation and based on estimated sales from JATO Dynamics, sales of upper-medium cars were almost 2 million units in 1999, representing 12.5 percent of the western European market. Sales last year decreased to just 1,229,452 units, only 8.3 percent of the market.
Last year, in the final year of its product cycle, sales of the old-generation Passat fell 19.4 percent to 213,530 units. But it still easily outsold rivals. The closest runner up, the Opel/Vauxhall Vectra was 40,000 units behind.
For the first 12 months of full production, VW plans to build 350,000 to 400,000 units of the new Passat.
The sixth-generation Passat sedan goes on sale in Europe this month. Its German-market base price of E21,800 is the same as the old model, even though the new one is larger and more refined. In Italy, the new Passat is from E500 to E1,000 cheaper than a comparably equipped fifth-generation model.
The Passat station wagon will debut at September's IAA in Frankfurt and go on sale soon after.
Not premium, but better
"We learned a lot from the Phaeton, especially precision and quality, and you'll find that in the Passat," Pischetsrieder says.
He and VW group chief designer Murat Günak avoided the label "premium" for the Passat, but Pischetsrieder says: "It has more room, a bigger trunk, better perceived quality and better design."
The Passat won similar praise from independent consultants. "The show cars are clearly better than the last Passat," said Steven Madge, owner of 2compare, a German automotive consulting firm. "Things like the hidden telephone unit are setting it apart from its competitors again."