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Volkswagen's 2020 model Passat sedan will feature a bolder look than in prior years, according to company with an assembly plant in Chattanooga. / Contributed image from Volkswagen

This story was updated at 5:07 p.m., Feb. 7, 2020, with more information.

A top Volkswagen of America official says the Chattanooga-made Passat has "a finite lifespan in terms of our planning," at least as a gas-powered vehicle.

In remarks at the Chicago Auto Show to Roadshow by CNET, VW Chief Operating Officer Johan de Nysschen said the Passat's successor could be battery powered.

"It's probably a reasonable assumption that when this Passat reaches the end of its life cycle, its successor will probably not feature an internal combustion engine," he said.

Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights for auto researcher Edmunds, said Friday that the midsize sedan car market is suffering industry wide.

"Everyone wants larger vehicles, SUVs and pickups," she said.

Passat sales have declined in the United States over the past seven years, according to VW figures. In 2019, sales of the sedan fell 66% from the previous year to only 14,123 units. At its peak in 2012, Volkswagen sold 117,023 Passat vehicles in the U.S.

While a battery-powered Passat could have some success, sedans are losing popularity, Caldwell said.

"I don't know if the world is clamoring for a Passat EV at the time," she said.

Because the existing Passat was refreshed for the 2020 model year, any changes may not happen for several years.

Scott Keogh, CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, said early last year that the four-door Passat was still an opportunity for the company to grow sales.

Keogh said car buyers like the size of the sedan and its durability, noting they've bought about 730,000 of the vehicles since Passat assembly began in Chattanooga in 2011.

At the same time, work started late last year in Chattanooga on an $800 million expansion at the VW plant to assemble an electric SUV by 2022. Volkswagen plans to add 1,000 more jobs at the production plant that also makes the Atlas SUV and Atlas Cross Sport SUV.

Caldwell said automakers are investing in a long-term future of battery-electric vehicles, even though sales of EVs are low at this time. Their cost, worries about the EV recharging infrastructure and people tending to be uncomfortable switching to a new technology are concerns, she said.

Still, Caldwell said, focusing on a price-friendly, small SUV that's battery powered "would have a better shot."

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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