Passat's new high-water mark gives Volkswagen 'springboard'

Passat's new high-water mark gives Volkswagen 'springboard'

September 20th, 2012 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Workers assemble a Volkswagen Passat at the German automaker's Chattanooga plant.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

FAST FACT

A Braintree, Mass., dealership, Quirk Volkswagen, sold the Passat sedan this week that set a new annual sales record for the car in the U.S., according to VW of America.

With over three months left in the year, Passat sales already have eclipsed the sedan's old U.S. record, the automaker reported Wednesday.

Passat's new high-water mark coupled with VW's best-selling Jetta will help propel the German automaker from its longtime niche status in the U.S., an official said.

"This sets us up as no longer a niche player and we can be a major player over the next several years," said Frank Trivieri, Volkswagen of America's executive vice president of sales.

Sales of the Chattanooga-made Passat on Tuesday hit 77,524. The old full-year mark of 77,523 was set in 2001, according to VW.

Final 2012 Passat sales will be "a landslide" versus the old record, said Village Volkswagen Sales Manager Ron Kwiatkowski.

"Being fresh and new, it should have a good run for several years," he said.

Trivieri said in a telephone interview that Passat sales help give VW "a strong springboard" moving ahead.

"We can go after Mach 18," he said.

Mach 18 is the 2018 overall sales goals VW has set in the U.S. and globally.

The company is aiming to sell 1 million VWs and Audis in the U.S. by 2018. Worldwide, VW is trying to hit No. 1 in sales and topple current leaders Toyota and General Motors.

Trivieri cited VW's dealers as well as the product for the Passat's new high.

"The dealers are interfacing with the customer base," he said. "Word of mouth is getting strong out there."

The VW official said the company also designed a car for American motorists.

"The proof is in the pudding," he said.

Still, the Passat faces stiff competition moving forward.

On Tuesday, Ford launched its redesigned midsize Fusion. Already Ford's best-selling car, the company is counting on improved styling and better fuel economy to drive sales even more.

Also, the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Chevrolet Malibu are new for this fall in the midsize segment, the auto market's biggest.

Toyota's Camry remains tops among midsize sedans with sales of 280,536 through August. Accord annual sales are 218,665, the Altima 209,592 and the Fusion 181,865 through last month.

Kwiatkowski, however, cited Passat's sales price for helping push its sales. He estimated that its price today is probably not far off from the imported version a decade ago as VW has sought to be more competitive with the top sellers in the U.S.

"Consumers are price driven," Kwiatkowski said.

Passat also is appealing to a broad age group, he said. Younger people with children like the bigger interior, which also is popular with older clientele, the sales manager said.