Volkswagen will soon offer its highly regarded turbocharged four-cylinder in its U.S.-market Passat.
The word came Tuesday as the company celebrated the commencement of engine production at its newest plant in Silao, Mexico. The facility will build 1.8-liter and 2.0-liter turbo engines rated at 168 and 208 hp, respectively.
The turbo 2.0-liter is, of course, very familiar. Variants of the “EA888” four-cylinder already power several Volkswagens and Audis, including the GTI, the Jetta GLI, and the A4. But until now, the engine was built only overseas, which limited its application in low-cost, high-volume products. The previous generation Passat suffered for this, starting at more than $27,000 with the 2.0-liter engine. This dynamic should change as Silao gets up to speed. Eventually, VW expects the facility to churn out some 330,000 engines annually, about 90,000 of which will be earmarked for the facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the new Passat is assembled. The Beetle Turbo and Jetta GLI, both of which are built in Puebla, Mexico, will also use the engines.
VW Chattanooga CEO Frank Fischer said the company has not yet determined whether the midsize car will feature the 1.8-liter, the 2.0-liter, or both. The transmission will be a torque converter automatic like that offered in other Passats.
Either turbo will help the Passat compete with the likes Hyundai Sonata, Ford Fusion, and Chevrolet Malibu. The 2.0-liter doesn’t achieve as much power as some of those competitors (at least in this iteration), but it has long been one of our favorite engines for its refinement. Currently, the Passat comes with choice of a 2.5-liter five-cylinder, a 2.0-liter turbodiesel, and a 3.6-liter six-cylinder.
The Silao factory–VW’s one hundredth worldwide–is but the latest move in what VW Group chairman Martin Winterkorn calls a “North American offensive.”
“We will invest $5 billion [through] 2018,” Winterkorn said at an opening ceremony that included Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto. “It will benefit the whole region and, of course, Volkswagen,” he added.
The company already has a sprawling facility in Puebla (where VW of Mexico produced the original Beetle until 2003). Audi will add a plant in the country in 2016. Winterkorn cited exchange rate considerations as a major reason for Mexican production. The automaker will also benefit from Mexico’s many free trade agreements and its low wages—a line worker told us the weekly pay ranges from about $100 to $150.
The Silao facility currently employs about four hundred people and will hire another three hundred by the year’s end. Most of the line workers we met appeared to be in their twenties and said they were joining Volkswagen directly out of school. Automobile manufacturing is hardly new to Silao: General Motors operates a 5500-employee factory in the city that builds hundreds of thousands of engines and vehicles (mostly pickups) annually.