Fleet News

Volkswagen Passat

Volkswagen

Review

VOLKSWAGEN is planning to put a sub-£15,000 price sticker on the new Passat range it will launch in summer.

In entry-level trim, the German company’s D-sector contender will be pitched to cost just 1.3% more than models from volume manufacturers, Fleet NewsNet can reveal.

Finishing touches are now being put on the marketing strategy that will allow British customers to pay substantially less for the lead-in 1.6-litre petrol S version than the £15,600 being asked for the car in domestic market showrooms.

And executives at Volkswagen UK are aiming to step up the pressure on Ford, Vauxhall and Peugeot by pricing the version of the Passat they expect to be most popular – the 2.0-litre TDI SE 140 – only 1% higher than competitor models when specification levels are taken into account.

Volkswagen UK director Paul Willis said: ‘We are still working on the details, but I can tell you that our SE cars will include six-speed transmission, electronic handbrake, cruise control and 16-inch alloy wheels. This is specification packaging that puts us way ahead of our volume competitors.’

Speaking in Barcelona at the company’s second media launch of its next-generation model, Willis claimed that early indications from UK contract hire and leasing companies suggested residual values were set to be as much as 10 points higher than the previous Passat.

He said: ‘This is good news. It puts us within spitting distance of Audi and BMW and I’m very pleased with the way things are shaping up.

‘To be honest, I was worried about the prospects for this car because the previous version had such a huge impact on the image of the brand. That resulted in very high demand and a dramatic improvement in our residuals.

‘I wondered if it would be possible to follow that level of achievement, but it looks like Volkswagen has moved the game on again. It’s most satisfying.’

Willis claims the new car’s pricing structure and strong residuals are paramount to his plans for the development of Volkswagen UK over the longer term.

He said: ‘Believe me, we understand the supply and demand equilibrium.

‘While we don’t have ambitions for any large growth in volume, we do aim to retain our leadership of the saloon sub-sector in the UK. That is not the case in the rest of Europe, but the factory shares our goals. And while we are both working to increase our share of the UK market, we are dedicated to raising the quality of our business.

‘You only have to look at what goes on with competitor brands to see that anyone can sell cars at a discount, but achieving the right balance between volume and quality of share is more difficult. Our strategy is to undersell our share in the rental and other sub-sectors of the fleet market that can adversely affect residuals.

‘This is a declining sector, of course, and some of our rivals are pricing their products at less than the Golf, which is in the segment below the Passat. Clearly, that is a ridiculous situation – they’re trying to buy business and it’s small wonder you read about them being unprofitable.

‘We are working hard to position ourselves away from all that. The brands that achieve D-sector growth in future will be those that have value rather than forced discounts. The new Passat will be a strong user-chooser car – it has a beautifully sculptured appearance that excites me. I think it looks like a real winner.’

As already reported by Fleet NewsNet, standard safety equipment in the Passat will include electronic stability control, driver, front passenger, front side and curtain airbags, fast-response rear LED lights, active front headrests and Isofix child seat mountings. Keyless entry and an electronic parking brake are also standard-fit and a Bluetooth telephone unit, a 600 watt hi-fi system and dual-zone Climatronic air conditioning are among optional items, along with a 230-volt mains outlet in the rear compartment to power laptop or computer games equipment.

Behind the wheel

WITH longer, wider and taller bodywork to haul around, it comes as no surprise to find that the lowest-rung Passat engine needs to be worked fairly hard to keep up a brisk pace on fast cross-country routes.

How it will cope with lugging four or five occupants – and with its bigger boot crammed full of luggage – remains to be seen, but to be fair, the new 1.6-litre FSI motor performed with gusto on our short test drive near Barcelona.

Now mounted transversely to free up additional body space, the 113bhp unit becomes vociferous at high revs but does settle to a more relaxed gait in sixth gear on the open road.

Irrespective of speed or territory, progress in the 2.0-litre FSI version proves to be noticeably easier, however. In 147bhp guise, the Passat comes closer to achieving Volkswagen’s ambition of cutting the cost of motoring with the ambience to go with an upmarket brand.

When linked to the group’s own torque converter automatic transmission in particular, the stronger petrol motor has the laid-back demeanour of premium transport and combines lively output with a level of refinement that should concern Audi, let alone Ford and Vauxhall.

Curiously, the interior treatment of the entry-level version may well have stronger appeal to British tastes. Designed to be sporty as well as practical, its brushed aluminium fascia strip is neater and more visually appealing than some of the walnut-grain wood inserts used in the German-specification Highline versions we tried.

But as is so often the case nowadays, diesel triumphs again in this new range, and it’s easy to see why Volkswagen expects 82% of UK-registered Passats will have either 1.9 or 2.0-litre turbodiesels under their bonnets. Each will be available with DSG, the semi-automatic transmission offering seamless ratio shifts and ultimate ease of driving – but even in manual form, their superior operating economy makes them the natural fleet choice.

Driving verdict

A CONSISTENTLY strong seller over the years, the B5 Passat is a hard act to follow, but success is stamped all over the flowing, elegant lines of the new B6 version and there’s little doubt that it’s a winner, especially in diesel form. And if it is good enough to mount a showroom challenge to Audi, the new car will also pose a threat to BMW.

VOLKSWAGEN PASSAT FACT FILE

Model 1.6 FSI 2.0 FSI 1.9 TDI 2.0 TDI
Engine (cc) 1,598 1,984 1,896 1,968
Max power (bhp/rpm) 113/6,000 147/6,000 103/4,000 137/4,000
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm) 114/4,000 148/3,500 184/1,900 236/1,800
Max speed (mph) 124 132 117 130
0-62mph (sec) 11.4 9.4 12.1 9.8
Comb fuel consumption (mpg) 37.7 34.4 50.4 47.9
CO2 emissions (g/km) 180 197 151 159
Transmission: 5-speed on 1.9 TDI, 6 speed, auto, DSG
Tank capacity (l/gal): 15.4/70
Service interval (miles): variable
On sale: Second half of June
Prices (OTR): from under £15,000 (est)

British fleet buyers fly in en masse
VOLKSWAGEN’S fleet launch for the new Passat certainly matched its ambitious plans for the car.

Set in Majorca, it was the biggest international fleet launch the firm has ever organised.

Some 500 fleet guests were flown out from the UK in three separate privately-chartered planes, filling up three hotels in Palma, with an evening event taking place in a vast underground cave complex.

The invited guests bought more than 56,000 Volkswagens last year and approaching 14,000 Passats, with a combined total fleet size of more than 1.7 million vehicles.

Volkswagen AG was running the event as a worldwide dealer launch, with 500 guests every day for 21 days, with 417 new Passats ready for use, and Volkswagen UK was the only nationality to use the event to get fleets out to drive the Passat, illustrating its importance in the sector.

CLEAR terms and good availability from launch are two of the key messages Volkswagen is trying to get across to fleets before the Passat hits the road. The firm reckons it has a new product that competes across the volume and premium sectors, but fleets will see little difference in its terms from the outgoing car.

Volkswagen national fleet sales manager Chris Blue said: ‘The new Passat marks yet another significant increase in quality that we believe has set the benchmark of automotive standards in this sector – a car that continues to raise the bar and sets a new level in refinement, quality and comfort which further underpins our premium claim.

Executives claim they are working hard to make sure the mistakes made at the launch of the last car, where supply was limited and waiting lists spiralled, will not happen this time.

Blue said: ‘I think it’s fair to say that the current Passat had a few supply issues when it was launched in 1997 but the New Passat’s production is based on the module assembly strategy. This means production efficiencies and quality improvements are achieved, ensuring a really good supply position from launch.’

Alongside having enough cars to satisfy demand at launch, Volkswagen reckons that terms will be clear and carry on as for the last Passat.

Blue said: ‘We’ve seen that many of our competitors have launched their new cars at terms which are unclear and inconsistent which they’ve had to change very soon afterwards.

‘What differentiates us from our competitors is the Agency Direct Sales process.

‘Fleets might have expected us to reduce the terms offered on a new model, especially with the enhanced product benefits and its likely price position.’

Head of fleet Vincent Kinner added: ‘I know that one or two fleets still are paying cash for vehicles but for the vast majority using the agency system, we will be introducing the new Passat at the same standard terms as the current model.

‘Our aim is to provide fleets with certainty in the market, by giving consistent terms that allows fleets to clearly define company car choice lists, avoiding the frustration for workforces and HR departments in trying to administer changing terms, varying prices and therefore amended company car lists.’

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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