- Volkswagen this week opened an all-new engine assembly plant in Silao, Mexico, to produce four-cylinder gasoline engines from its EA888 family.
- The Silao plant has the capacity to produce as many as 330,000 engines annually; most eventually will be earmarked for vehicles built at the VW assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
- It's all gasoline engines for now from the new engine plant, but VW sources say adding diesel-engine production is being considered.
SILAO, Mexico — The Volkswagen Group won't come right out and say we'll soon see a four-cylinder version of the U.S.-made Passat fullsize sedan, but two things happened this week to indicate it's a done deal.
First, VW cut the ribbon on an eat-off-the-floors-clean new engine plant here — the company's 100th production facility — that will produce only four-cylinder engines — and is openly saying much of the output from the plant is earmarked for vehicles made at its U.S. plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Second, just a day earlier at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show, the company almost inconspicuously unveiled the Passat Performance Concept — a nearly visually unaltered version of the current Passat powered by a high-performance 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine from the EA888 family now being built at the new plant in Silao.
Frank Fischer, CEO of the Chattanooga plant and on hand for the Mexico engine plant's opening, told reporters that not only is a major portion of the new engine plant's output earmarked for vehicles made in Chattanooga, gasoline four-cylinder Passats have been undergoing road-testing in the U.S.
Volkswagen sold a little more than 117,000 Passats last year — a stupendous jump from the sales the previous-generation Passat managed — yet not a single one came out of the plant with a four-cylinder gasoline engine. With the new Silao engine plant cranking up to a targeted 1,500 engines a day, those engines are going to need to find a home pretty soon, so we're guessing it won't be long before VW announces a production version of the Passat Performance Concept will be in U.S. showrooms.
Right now, the models on VW's sales floor represent a complex matrix of vehicle and engine sourcing, but the Passat is the only U.S.-made model. Its current engine lineup consists of the 2.0-liter TDI diesel (made in Poland), the 2.5-liter gasoline five-cylinder (built at VW's engine plant in Puebla, Mexico) and the 3.6-liter V6 made in Germany.
With Fischer indicating the new Silao engine plant could be sending as many as 90,000 engines to Chattanooga, the likely first result is that one of the turbocharged EA888 four-cylinders now made in Silao in 1.8-liter and 2.0-liter displacements will replace the Passat's aged 2.5-liter five-cylinder base engine.
Nobody's yet confirming whether the 1.8-liter or 2.0-liter will be used for the U.S. Passat, but the Passat Performance Concept unveiled at the Detroit auto show used a 250-horsepower version of the 1.8-liter. Either way, the new four-cylinder should represent a power and fuel economy upgrade over the unremarkable 2.5-liter.
Moreover, with plenty of capacity at the Chattanooga plant and the new Mexico engine's plant's ability to build as many as 330,000 engines annually, it's clear another model, powered by Mexico-built four-cylinder engines, is coming to Chattanooga. The almost obvious choice is a production version of the CrossBlue midsize crossover concept also unveiled at the Detroit auto show, which VW said is, like the Passat, a model designed specifically for the U.S. market.
Finally, a diesel engine from the EA888 family also is all but certain for the Silao plant's future, although it would require a separate production line. "There is room," to add the diesel at the plant, a VW source said.
Edmunds says: Your future Volkswagen is increasingly likely to have a four-cylinder engine from VW's newest and most modern engine-assembly plant.