Chattanooga-built Passat named Motor Trend Car of the Year

Chattanooga-built Passat named Motor Trend Car of the Year

November 17th, 2011 by Mike Pare in News

Jonathan Browning, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, left, and Frank Fisher, who heads the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant, stand with the Passat, which was awarded the 2012 Car of the Year by Motor Trend magazine.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

WHAT MOTOR TREND SAID:

* "Tastefully executed with really tight ... lines and nice detailing." -- The exterior

* "A fine choice for middle America in real-world driving conditions." -- The 2.5-liter engine

* "Without the compromises the mainstream green vehicles impose." -- The diesel version

A mixture of German engineering and Tennessee craftsmanship is why Volkswagen's made-in-Chattanooga Passat drew Car of the Year honors from Motor Trend magazine, the assembly plant's chief said Wednesday.

"This is a really good sign," said Frank Fischer, CEO of VW's Chattanooga operations.

Making the announcement at the Los Angeles Auto Show, Motor Trend cited the all-new midsize sedan's design, engineering, fuel efficiency, safety and value.

"Here's where VW's $4 billion Chattanooga plant investment pays for U.S. buyers," the magazine said, citing the cost VW reported it took to bring the car from design to the U.S. dealer.

According to the magazine, the Passat edged out the Chrysler 300 in the closest vote ever.

Angus MacKenzie, Motor Trend editor-in-chief, especially cited the Passat's "engineering excellence."

"Chassis, steering, ride and handling all are tastiest," he said.

The Passat, redesigned for the American market by becoming larger and featuring creature comforts attuned to the desires of U.S. motorists, competed against 34 other vehicles.

Jesse Toprak, TrueCar.com's vice president of industry trends and insights, said the Passat is "a good value proposition" in a market of midsize sedans that's "the most competitive it has ever been."

Fischer said the award may boost Passat sales, which VW officials have called better than expected over the first few months.

"I think it will spur sales on more," said Fischer, who oversaw construction at the Chattanooga plant and the car's production earlier this year and who accepted the Motor Trend award with Jonathan Browning, VW of America's CEO.

Higher Passat sales will mean more production at the 2,000-employee Chattanooga plant, he said.

"In the first half of 2012, we'll have to push the ramp up," Fischer said, noting spring is a key time for new car sales.

Motor Trend cited the "exquisite detailing" of the car's exterior, but said interior styling breaks little new ground, yet that may let it age more gracefully than others.

Under the hood, Motor Trend's test team said, the 2.5-liter engine is "a fine choice for middle America in real-world driving conditions."

The car's turbodiesel engine found no detractors, and Motor Trend reviewers said the most powerful Passat, which features a V6 engine, meant going from zero to 60 mph in just 5.7 seconds.

In terms of safety, the six-airbag Passat was cited by the magazine for an agile chassis that's tuned to keeping it out of trouble.

Additionally, the new Passat's price, which cuts about $7,000 from the previous model, was noted by Motor Trend.

TrueCar.com's Toprak said VW and Passat have potential for growth, though awards don't always equate to sharply higher sales.

"They do that by working on branding," he said.

But there's still room for growth, he said, and VW ought to take more of a risk in the car's looks when it's redesigned.

"It's too safe," he said.

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who helped woo VW to the city, said the award is "icing on the cake for what has been an outstanding year for the Volkswagen-Chattanooga marriage."

"Many of us believed Volkswagen would flourish in Chattanooga, and this is certainly evidence they are," he said.