Reports indicate that Volkswagen is preparing to cease production of its Passat sedan in response to falling sales. VW manufactures two versions of the Passat – one for European markets and a slightly larger, more affordable version for the North American market – and both versions are expected to be axed after this generation.
In addition, VW is also expected not to renew the Arteon Liftback or Arteon Shooting Brake for another generation. These models were billed as slightly upmarket versions of the Passat with coupe-inspired styling and more equipment, akin to the Audi A5 Sportback or BMW 8 Series Gran Coupe.
The Passat had been a surprisingly resilient sedan nameplate, especially in Europe where many other sedan rivals have seen sales drop significantly over the last two decades. Previously familiar models including the Ford Mondeo, Opel/Vauxhall Insignia and Peugeot 508 are now among the slowest selling cars for their manufacturers. The shift away from sedans can be directly attributed to the rise of SUVs and crossovers – many of which offer similar levels of practicality, performance andeconomy as sedans, with the raised driving position SUV buyers appreciate.
Further pressure is placed on mass-market manufacturers operating in the midsize sedan segment by premium brands such as Mercedes, Audi and BMW.
Further pressure is placed on mass-market manufacturers operating in the midsize sedan segment by premium brands such as Mercedes, Audi and BMW. Thanks to increased used of shared platforms, engines and components, the purchase prices of premium vehicles have come down in recent years which, combined with the driving force of aspirational lifestyles pushing buyers upmarket over time, has led to premium brands increasing their market share in developed markets including Europe and North America.
Currently, the Passat is the best-selling midsize sedan in Europe, selling nearly 90,000 units so far in 2020. The second-placed vehicle, the Skoda Superb, comes from VW sister brand Skoda and uses the same platform and engines as the Passat. In cutting Passat sedan production, VW is hoping that the remainder of the midsize sedan market in Europe will migrate over to the Skoda Superb, or into an equivalent SUV such as the VW Tiguan.
European fans of the Passat name have been given a lifeline, however, because sources indicate that the Passat Wagon will not face the same fate as the sedan. This is due to the continued popularity of the wagon bodystyle in markets such as Germany.
In the US, the transition away from the midsize sedan is more entrenched than in Europe, with the majority of buyers either choosing the brand’s compact Jetta model, or its sizeable Atlas SUV. The US Passat was previously made alongside the Atlas at VW’s Chattanooga plant in Tennessee but capacity is now being freed up there to manufacture the ID.4 midsize electric SUV. VW has also shown a Shooting Brake EV concept dubbed the Aero B that is thought to preview a production model, which could be built at Chattanooga in addition to European production in Emden.
Since 2019, VW’s joint venture with China’s SAIC has been producing its own model badged the Passat for local sale. This model shares the MQB platform with the European-market Passat but with an even larger body to fit with executive buyers that make up the majority of sales in China. So far, there is no indication that Volkswagen plans to cease sales of the Chinese market Passat because sedan sales in the country are still reasonably strong.
The Passat’s fate, however, is sealed thanks to the combined impact of the rise of the SUV and the rapid transition to electric vehicles. With the few resilient customer niches – business fleets, for example – now well served by wagon and SUV models, there is unlikely to be meaningful demand for a Passat sedan any time soon.