Despite the numerous improvements, more-powerful engines and competitive price, Volkswagen of America Inc. doesn't expect U.S. sales of the new-generation Passat to increase substantially.
The larger Passat competes in the family-sized vehicle segment against three Japanese automakers with better quality ratings than VW -- which was fourth from the bottom in this year's J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study.
The sixth-generation 2006 Passat will match the peak sales of the previous model, which were 96,142 for both the sedan and wagon versions in 2002, says David Wicks, director of sales for VW. He doesn't predict sales above that number.
"Sales are tough for us to project because of the competitive entries in the market. We are cross-shopped against the Camry, Accord and Altima," Wicks says.
The 2006 Volkswagen Passat gets a new 280-hp, 3.6-liter V-6 engine. Prices start at $23,565.
Those three models have consistently outsold the Passat. In 2004, 426,990 Camrys were sold in the United States. Passat sales fell to 67,640 cars last year, compared with 76,977 in 2003.
The competitors far outsell VW because all three brands have a full range of vehicles and lure more buyers into their showrooms, Wicks says.
VW also is hesitant to forecast higher Passat sales because more U.S. consumers are buying trucks than in 2000, says Wicks.
The Passat arrived at auto dealerships in late July.
Kevin Eckhart, owner of Santa Barbara (Calif.) Volkswagen, says the car "will help reverse a long dry spell."
VW continues to put premium pricing on the vehicle. Prices start at $23,565 for the 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged value edition. A 2.0-liter turbo model with a six-speed automatic transmission and a package including a sunroof, CD changer and satellite radio costs $25,590 -- pricier than comparable Japanese vehicles. Prices include shipping.
Rather than decontent the car in light of VW's profitability problems in the United States and the currency disadvantage, the 2006 Passat is filled with premium German engineering.
"That is where VW comes in, and that's the position of our brand," says Wicks.
"We're not selling appliances -- we are selling fun and invigorating cars that people love to drive. We can offer an affordable European alternative to the mainstream, not-so-exciting Japanese cars," he says.
AWD, wagon coming
This year, the Passat gets a new 3.6-liter V-6 engine that makes 280 hp mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with a Tiptronic shifter.
There are no plans for a manual transmission.
VW will not offer the costlier V-8 engine with this generation, says Wicks. An all-wheel-drive model and the station wagon both go on sale in February. VW expects the V-6 to account for only 20 percent of Passat sales, Wicks says.
Despite the improvements and larger size, VW did not move the Passat up half a segment like it did with the larger new-generation Jetta.
"We had the ability to move a little bit, but we maintained a good position where the old Passat was," says Wicks. The average transaction price of the new-generation car will be about $27,300 -- similar to that of the previous model, he said.
But Wicks says the six-cylinder engine will allow the Passat to compete against the near-luxury cars that include Volvo, Infiniti and Acura models.
You may e-mail Diana T. Kurylko at [email protected]