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Wolfsburg, 7 October 2004 – In July 1973, Volkswagen presented the first Passat, which was to become a future world best-seller. Exactly 31 years later, Volkswagen celebrated the production of the 13 millionth Passat. Produced at the Emden plant, the Passat reflects a typical success story for the brand. Like the Beetle, the Passat was simply destined to become a global success. The sales figures are truly unbelievable: 13 million units – in simple statistics this means that 1,149 Passats were delivered on a daily basis for over three decades (2003: 3,000 each workday). It is a best-seller par excellence in Europe as well as in China, South Africa, Australia and the USA.
Let’s turn back the clock to July 1973: Volkswagen launches the follow-up to the “1600” and “411” models. It is a modern hatchback with front-wheel drive(!) and a longitudinally installed inline engine(!) at the front(!). It is water-cooled and puts an end to air cooling.This is sensational. Up to that point, the air-cooled boxer engine mounted in the rear had dominated Volkswagen history. Now a new era has begun, however: Front-wheel drive and front-mounted engines.
Of course, the Beetle is still running. And nothing can stop it! Nevertheless the Passat with its superior drive and body concept represents the future. One thing is certain: This car is good. Under the bonnet, petrol engines with up to 63kW/85hp ensure agile propulsion. However, at the time, no one imagined that generations later V6 TDI engines with up to 132kW/180hp or a W8 delivering 202kW/275hp would be mounted under the bonnet.
The same can be said of many more things. When the first Passat left the Emden plant, Willy Brandt was making history as the German Chancellor and Hillary Rodham and her boyfriend Bill Clinton were finishing their law studies at Yale University. Also Roger Moore was saving the world as James Bond in Live and Let Die, Pink Floyd released The Dark Side of the Moon and IBM presented the first hard drive setting the course for the computer age.
The first Passat was a weight-optimised car with two or four doors and space for five people. As for the engine, you could choose between three petrols in two capacity classes. In January 1974, the new Passat Estate arrived allowing owners to transport larger objects. Thanks to its long, stretched silhouette and its flexibility, it also immediately became a best-seller.
The overall concept was very popular: Even in the first full year on the market (1974), 133,000 customers chose the Passat and by December 1976 one million Passats had been sold.
When the Bee Gees brought disco to Germany in 1977 with Stayin’ Alive from Saturday Night Fever, Volkswagen introduced a new version of the first generation Passat enhancing the style with a classic facelift and improving the aerodynamics. Plastic-covered bumpers continued to identify the series on the outside. Also the ergonomics of many components was improved on the inside.
In March 1978, the 1.5-litre diesel engine (37kW/50hp), already successfully used in the Golf, follows for the Passat. An average consumption of 7.5 litres and even less with careful driving give birth to a new world of economic cars. In April 1980, Passat production swiftly passed the two-million mark. When the successor was introduced in the late autumn, the Passat had already secured a place in automobile history by selling 2.6 million units.
In November 1980, the second generation of the sensational mid-range model made its debut. It featured a new construction, was bigger, more elegant and grown-up. The Passat had also broken away from the Audi 80 and was following its own route. Volkswagen also stuck to the successful hatchback in the second generation of the Passat, but this time launched the new estate simultaneously. Both versions have impressive technical features particularly the new innovative rear semi-independent suspension.
A new 1.6-litre diesel delivering 40kW/54hp made its debut providing a particularly economic power plant. In August 1982, the output of the diesel was boosted to 51kW/70hp make the first turbo diesel in the Passat. Upon launch, the Passat was available for the first time with a five-cylinder petrol engine (85kW/115hp).
In the same year, the Santana, a classic Passat four-door saloon with a conventional boot made its debut. An increasing number of high-tech components were added to the range at the time. For example, four-wheel drive became available for the Passat Estate GT syncro from 1984. In 1985, the series underwent an extensive facelift.
Also from 1985, Volkswagen delivered the first Passat with a computer-controlled catalytic converter (66kW/90hp) and built the three millionth Passat. The top of range version, a 200km/h Passat with 2.2-litre five-cylinder engine (100kW/136hp), was launched. In March 1987, the series broke the four-million barrier.
In Spring 1988, Volkswagen sent out the third generation of the Passat and Passat Estate to dealerships. The Passat had new qualities: It had grown considerably, featured an all-new design line, had a substantially longer wheel base and was now powered by transverse engines. Volkswagen presented the estate at the same time again. Both body versions were characterised by perfect aerodynamics. In June 1990, Passat production crossed the five-million line.
Another highlight was the VR6 introduced in the early summer of 1991. From 2.8 litres capacity, the compact VR6 developed an agile 128kW/174hp. The top speed of the Passat VR6 saloon is 224km/h, the estate reaches 218km/h.
After building more than 1.6 million units, Volkswagen presented the next Passat in the midsummer of 1993. Exactly 20 years after the introduction, 6.2 million cars had been produced.
In autumn 1993, the first fourth-generation Passats were delivered. The most striking visual feature was a classic radiator grille instead of the closed front. In just three years almost 700,000 units from this generation of Passat and Passat Estate, which had been enhanced in many areas, were sold. The passive and active safety was optimised by standard driver and front passenger airbags, belt tensioners and ABS antilock brakes.
One technical revolution in 1993 was an engine with the abbreviation TDI. The turbo diesel with direct injection delivered 66kW/90hp and allowed speeds of up to 178km/h. The average consumption was only 5.3 litres (estate 5.4 litres). In February 1996, the TDI range was expanded to include a 1.9-litre four-cylinder engine with an output of 81kW/110hp.
The fifth generation Passat introduced in 1996 signalled the start of a new era as, in many areas, the quality, safety and comfort reached a level previously associated with the next vehicle class up. The all-new body was fully galvanised and extremely stiff. The re-designed interior lived up to this standard. Two of the many technical highlights were the chassis with a new four-link front axle as well as standard side airbags.
The basic version of the Passat came with a new 1.6-litre aluminium engine (74kW/100hp). The new V5 engine with a capacity of 2.3 litres and an output of 110kW/150hp (from September 1997) and the V6 now delivering 142kW/193hp provided interesting alternatives.
The estate made its first appearance at the Geneva International Automobile Show in March 1997. Over the next months, the equipment and range of engines were refined. In 1998, the first TDI with unit injector technology (85kW/115hp) and the Passat V6 TDI delivering 110kW/150hp were, for example, introduced. From September 1999, ESP became standard in all Passat models (Germany).
In October 2000, Volkswagen presented the current Passat model. The new front end design with its elegant chrome radiator grille as well as the new rear with its striking taillights clearly point the way to the future. The body quality sets new standards in the mid-range class. In addition to the standard front and side airbags, side head airbags are now optionally available. Like many other details, the climate control becomes part of the standard equipment.
The 202kW/275hp Passat W8 and Passat Estate W8 enjoys a special exclusive status. The top models introduced in June 2001 (top speed of 250km/h, 4MOTION four-wheel drive) represent a further highlight with the brand’s and series’ first eight-cylinder engine.
In the area of volume engines, a new 2.0-litre four-cylinder with 96kW/130hp followed in December 2001. In March 2003, a new V6 TDI delivering 132kW/180hp made its debut. In May, another V6 was added to the TDI programme for the Passat. It delivers 120kW/163hp and, like the more powerful V6, also meets the strict EU4 emissions standard.
On 13 May 2003, the twelve millionth Passat was built at the Emden plant. And it does not end there. Each day at the Emden, Zwickau, Shanghai (China) and Anchieta (Brazil) plants around 3,000 Passats are produced. In 2003 alone, over 727,000 saloons and estates were produced – a record year for the Passat. The strongest markets in Europe are Germany, Italy, France and the UK. Overseas, China and the USA are among the major sales markets.
In autumn 2003, a further engine innovation followed: The Passat 2.0 TDI (100kW/136hp) with particulate filter. In the same year, the million seller was made even more elegant. As introduced for the first time for the Phaeton, the Passat is given new outside mirrors with integrated indicators among other components.
In 2004, the TDI versions of the Passat are particularly popular. For example, in Germany, the number 1 is the both sporty and economical 1.9 TDI delivering 96kW/130hp (around 50 percent share). It is followed closely by the smaller 1.9 TDI with an output of 74kW/100hp. The large 2.0 TDI (100kW/136hp) with particulate filter has now established itself as the number 3 among the TDIs.
In the first half of 2004, 40 percent of all Passat orders were for the basic version. With good reason, because it features an impressive range of standard equipment including drivers and front passenger airbag, side airbags, ESP and climate control. Two thirds of all Passat customers also order the “Business” equipment package that is specially configured for frequent drivers and businessmen. It includes a car phone preparation with hands-free system, a radio system, cruise control, heated seats, fog lights and rain sensors. Today every third Passat is also equipped with a navigation system.
These typical equipment features make the Passat the automobile zeitgeist. The most successful cars of any era are both a reflection of the present and also an indication of the future. And, in view of the Passat, which has now been built 13 million times, that should be particularly fascinating.
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