Volkswagen today is celebrating the production of its 700,000th Passat at its plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. And that’s a milestone worth celebrating. But there’s a bigger story behind it.
The German automaker started producing the Passat in Chattanooga just over eight years ago, in April 2011. It’s a completely different model than the one produced under the same name overseas.
Last year, it sold just over 60,000 of those “new midsize sedans” in America. But on average, it’s sold nearly 80,000 of them in the US each year since local production began. Compare that to 40,000 or so it sold on average each year when it was still importing them from Europe. In other words, the decision to make a specialized Passat for the US in the US has paid off roughly two-fold.
Not too shabby for a vehicle competing in a shrinking segment. Domestic automakers are quickly abandoning sedans, with Ford giving up on the Fusion altogether, and FCA discontinuing the Chrysler 200 – both erstwhile Passat competitors. And VW has seen a downward trend in the sales of its “new midsize sedan” in the US as well. Those 60,722 Passats that it sold in America last year represents a major slide from the 117,023 it sold in 2012, ever since which sales have steadily declined.
Fortunately VW isn’t putting all its eggs in the sedan basket – even if it did recently introduce a new Jetta sedan to slot in underneath the larger Passat. Late in 2016, it started producing the new Atlas sport-ute in Chattanooga alongside the Passat. And it’s quickly turning into one of the top sellers for Volkswagen of America.
Last month it sold 5,404 examples of the Atlas in the United States. That places it second in the company’s sales charts behind only the smaller Tiguan (built in Mexico), of which it sold 7,637. The Passat came in a close fifth, just behind the two aforementioned crossovers, the Golf, and the Jetta – but well ahead of the Beetle and Touareg.
Oh, and the landmark 700,000th sedan built in Chattanooga? It’s a silver Passat GT with a VR6 and six-speed DSG. “The history of Volkswagen Chattanooga is intertwined with the history of the U.S. Passat. As we grow and add models, we take pride in continuing to produce quality Passats in the state of Tennessee,” said plant chief Antonio Pinto. “I am very proud of our team for reaching this important milestone and look forward to more to come.”