While the North American International Auto Show media preview continues today, what’s interesting to note is that although the Great Recession is behind the industry, there is still a certain discernable tentativeness regarding flights of fancy. That is, pre-2008, there was a wide array of concept cars that were truly conceptual—fanciful, imaginative, far-reaching, impractical.
Nowadays, the number has dwindled and concepts have become pretty much practical approaches for what is likely to be in the not-too-distant future.
VW Design Vision GTi concept. A reach, but certainly conceivable.
My personal odds-on favorite for “Concept Car That Is Likely to Be in Dealerships Sooner Rather Than Later” is the Volkswagen Passat BlueMotion Concept.
And it ought to be.
The car is the current-generation, U.S.-targeted Passat that’s produced in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The Passat is presently offered with three engines. A 170-hp, 1.8-liter four; a 280-hp, 3.6-liter V6, and a 140-hp, 2.0-liter turbodiesel four (but it provides 236 lb-ft of torque @ 1,750 rpm, so don’t let that comparatively low horsepower rating get in the way).
Just build it.
Both fours are available with either a manual or automatic transmission. The 1.8-liter’s fuel-consumption numbers are 24 mpg city/35 mpg highway with the manual and 24/34 mpg with the automatic. The diesel returns 31 mpg city/43 mpg highway with the manual and 30/40 mpg with the automatic. The V6 is available only with the six-speed automatic; its fuel economy is 20/28 mpg.
A couple more numbers before we get to the Passat BlueMotion Concept.
When the Passat was launched in September 2011, it received rave reviews—it was the 2012 Motor Trend Car of the Year—and within a year of job one, Volkswagen Chattanooga trained and deployed a third shift of workers for the car. (The car is exclusively and singularly made in the plant.)
But while VW sold 117,023 Passats in the U.S. in calendar year 2012, sales were down to 109,652, a 6.3% reduction. (That said, it still accounted for about 25% of Volkswagen of America’s total 2013 sales, which were 407,704.)
Arguably, the bloom is off the rose for a not-very-old model. So VW needs to do something to bring buyers into the dealerships.
Which is where the Passat BlueMotion Concept comes in.
Gasoline engine with diesel-like efficiency.
Here is a gasoline-powered car that has an estimated highway fuel economy rating of 42 mpg. And it is not doing so in an anemic manner, as the 1.4-liter inline four EA211 TSI engine with direct fuel injection, turbocharging, and cylinder deactivation (yes, it can run on two cylinders, two and three, under light throttle in city driving) is rated at 150 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque.
(Also contributing to the fuel economy are a start/stop system and a DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission.)
None of this technology is in anyway new or exotic to Volkswagen. Which doesn’t make it very “conceptual.”
While the Golf R is getting more fanfare and accolades (it has a 290-hp, 2.0-liter EA888 four-cylinder engines; with a DSG dual-clutch transmission it will go from 0 to 62 mph in a neck-snapping 4.9 seconds), it is the Passat BlueMotion Concept that should really make a difference to VW’s fortunes in the U.S. market.
(In 2013, it sold 1,598 Golf Rs in the U.S., which is significantly fewer than the number of Passats it sold in the month of December alone, 9,254.)