As the sun sets on the current generation Passat, Volkswagen decided to let Car and Driver fool around with an early iteration of the next gen model. I’m sure the automaker was thrilled with the outcome: the auto mag just straight up didn’t like it. Why? VW didn’t do enough to distinguish it from its predecessor. In the fight for scraps left over from shoppers who don’t want a Camry, Accord, or Altima, it seems the Germans already lost round one. And the situation that Wolfsburg faces with its passenger car lineup isn’t at all different from the problems Hyundai, GM, and others will have to deal with down the line.
Despite the camouflage, its abundantly clear that VW did not substantially alter the exterior of the current Passat, which debuted in 2011 for the 2012 model year, with a light refresh for 2016. There are no new powertrains either. The 3.6 liter is gone, and the sole remaining engine is a 2.0 liter turbo, which has an output of 174 horsepower and 207 Ib-ft of torque. Decent numbers, but the Passat will still be equipped with the six speed automatic transmission from the current model, which puts it at a disadvantage when compared against the modern CVT units of the Accord and Altima and the eight speed unit in the Camry.
With 2018 coming to a close, the Passat will probably move about 40,000 units by the time January comes around. That pales in comparison to the numbers the sedan was pulling when it debuted, which is obviously why the company decided to simply update the car instead of replacing it. And that is the conundrum every automaker fielding a sedan in every segment has to reckon with: do they spend billions of dollars to create something that can go toe-to-toe with the best, or can they get away with a light update? FCA, Ford, and (probably) GM have decided its not worth it at all, and it’s looking like they made the right decision. Even a minimum effort nip/tuck like the 2020 Passat costs money, and at maybe 40,000 units per year or less, VW would have to be practicing witchcraft in order to make the car profitable.
This post is not meant to bash the Passat. In fact, I’ll do precisely the opposite by declaring the mid size to be an excellent product. With the one year mark fast approaching, Dad’s love affair with his 2016 1.8T S has not waned, and I can’t blame him. It’s smooth, roomy, fuel efficient, and the powertrain is ready and willing to play ball. But competent, good, and even great cars don’t matter in today’s shrinking sedan market.
Car and Driver feels the same way about the updated model. And that is the problem.
What is the point of buying a brand new Passat when a shopper could easily acquire something similar to the vehicles shown above? VW faces competition from the outside and in. A refresh only exacerbates the issue.
With less than one month before the year is over, we can already see how the segment fared in 2018. The answer is not good. Every major and minor player will post year-over-year declines; most have double-digit decreases. It’s a segment that can probably shed at least forty percent of the current model lineup. And that kind of justifies what VW is doing with the 2020 Passat. There is no point in developing a ground up redesign if customers are simply looking elsewhere. And if Hyundai, Kia, Subaru, and Chevrolet are currently doing so they’re making a big mistake. Sedans still matter, but not in the way they used to. The Passat is just one example out of many.
Prototype Drive: 2020 Volkswagen Passat – Car and Driver
Midsize Car Sales In America – November 2018 – goodcarbadcar