What's the most successful Volkswagen model? It would be easy to answer it's the legendary Beetle, with over 21 million built. But that's not the right answer — the Golf is, with 35 million built since the iconic hatchback was presented 45 years ago in spring 1974. And between those VW-defining nameplates slots the Passat, which now celebrates the big 3-0: as in 30 million Passats built.
It's not always remembered that the Passat actually preceded the Golf in Volkswagen's then-radical shift to front-engine layout and front-wheel drive. But the Giugiaro-designed fastback beat the Golf to market, launched a year earlier in 1973. Largely, the Passat's role was to provide a Volkswagen counterpart to the Audi 80 sedan, as the two cars shared mechanicals, but both in image and market position the Passat and 80 were different. Various other model names were also affixed to the Passat during its early tenure, from Dasher to Quantum to Santana, the last of which led a long life in China and also saw production in Japan under Nissan's umbrella.
In the mid-'80s, the slightly Moomin-like B3 generation gave a production form to VW's aerodynamic 1981 concept Auto 2000, and the late 1990s B5 generation car presented a paradigm shift in perceivable manufacturing quality — again appearing on the market just before the corresponding new Golf, the MKIV did. Later generations have perhaps not delivered the same impact the 1997 Passat B5 did, but there have been important watershed moments, such as the North American Passat deviating from the European ones under the "NMS" acronym in 2011, essentially forming its own branch of U.S. Passats. That generation lived until this year, and a brand new one is in the pipeline for 2020. Currently, the Passat is built on three continents in 10 manufacturing plants.
The 30 millionth Passat, built in the Emden factory in Germany, is a silver GTE plug-in hybrid, which will serve as a press car and a test mule. The 218-horsepower wagon features upgraded PHEV tech, which enables it to meet 2021 Euro 6d emission standards. Its WLTP electric-only range is 55 kilometers, or around 34 miles.