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First Drive: Volkswagen Passat

VW says Americans want a big, smooth midsizer with nondescript styling. Is that true?

by on May.09, 2012

Volkswagen aims to take over the title of world's biggest automaker with cars like the new Passat.For decades, Volkswagens were the car you bought if you wanted something just a bit different than the Camrys, Accords and Malibus. If you lust after a more expensive German sedan, but you’re spending Chevrolet money.

For a long time, it worked well enough. The brand’s small, but loyal band of fans bought them because they had real German engineering at a much more manageable price than BMW, Audi or Mercedes and because they weren’t Camrys, Accords or Malibus.

But the objectives in Wolfsburg have changed. VW has made it very clear that it wants to be the largest automaker in the world. You may be thinking “Geez, I probably see eight Toyotas for every VW,” but Volkswagens are more popular throughout the rest of the world. VW also has nine other brands – a couple of which Americans don’t even know exist. Besides the eponymous brand, VW also has owns Audi, Bugatti, Bentley and Lamborghini. But it also has SEAT and Skoda – European brands that have never been sold here.

Anything But Nondescript!

While Europe and other world markets are far bigger to VW than is the U.S., the automaker still decided it needed to increase sales here to reach its goals.

So, the automaker decided that if it was going to increase U.S. sales, it would need to follow the script written by Toyota, one of the automakers it will have to surpass. It would make cars tailored to the tastes of the American majority, rather than the few who appreciated the slightly quirky VW of old.

One of the products of that effort is this Passat, a car that VW expects to help lead its U.S. sales surge. The automaker has made a $1 billion bet on the Passat with a sparkling new plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.

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Behind the Beetle Redesign

VW design chief explains his strategy for the critical redesign.

by on Apr.19, 2011

"A beloved icon."

Seventy-five years ago, there was no Beetle.  There was only the “people’s car,” or Volks Wagen.  And even that little car might have vanished into the wreckage of World War II were it not for an enterprising British officer who found one of the few models to survive amidst the rubble at a plant in Wolfsburg, Germany.

Eventually, what the little insect-like coupe would go on to become the most popular car in automotive history, ultimately selling nearly 5 million copies before it was replaced by the “New” Beetle, in 1998.  The update has proven controversial and far less successful.  No wonder Klaus Bischoff the Volkswagen brand design chief was nervous when given the challenge of developing what was to become only the second complete redesign of the Beetle in three quarters of a century.

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There was plenty of debate inside the German automaker as to whether the Beetle should even be updated or simply abandoned, Bischoff tells TheDetroitBureau.com.  His position was simple: “I didn’t want to lose this beloved icon for the brand.”

But as he and his team set out to come up with a suitable replacement, Bischoff says it was clear they had to both look forward and backwards at the same time.

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First Look: 2012 Volkswagen Beetle

The Bug is back.

by on Apr.18, 2011

VW returns to a more classic design with the 2012 Beetle.

It’s been nearly three-quarters of a century since the first Volkswagen Beetle made its debut – and more than a decade since the German maker unveiled the current Bug.  So there’s been plenty of anticipation building for the all-new model getting its global launch this week.

In an unusual, multi-city event linking New York, Shanghai and Berlin, Volkswagen today revealed an all-new “people’s car” that picks up on many of the cues of the original Beetle first launched in 1938.

Only the third complete remake in the model’s history, the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle will be displayed at both the New York and Shanghai auto shows, this week, as well as in Germany, where the original model was conceived as a low-cost way to put people on wheels.

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The look of the new car returns to the sort of 2-box design that gave the first-generation car such longevity.  The 1998 remake, while clearly influenced by the pre-War design, opted for a semi-circular shape that proved extremely polarizing.

“The new model should be able to help them attract the male buyers that didn’t warm up” to the model soon to go out of production, suggested Dave Sullivan, an automotive analyst with AutoPacific, Inc.

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