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Reuters / February 05, 2003

FRANKFURT - Volkswagen AG may launch the new version of its key Passat family car towards the end of 2004, a company source said on Wednesday, later than many analysts had expected.

"I can imagine that it will be late autumn 2004," the source told Reuters.

The group is currently suffering from a weak point in its product cycle and is relying on forthcoming replacements for both its top-selling Golf and the high-margin Passat to avoid losing market share to fresher-faced rival models.

A Volkswagen spokesman said no final decision had been made on the exact timing of the Passat launch.

"We have never set a date for the market launch of the next Passat. So it is pure speculation to say that any dates have been pushed back," the spokesman said.

The company had in the past indicated it might consider changing the life-cycle of either the Golf or the Passat to avoid having to phase out two models at the same time and bear the cost of two near-simultaneous key launches.

A new version of the Golf is due to be unveiled later this year.

Delays to new car launches are not uncommon for carmakers. Volkswagen launched its Touran minivan, which goes on sale in Germany in March, later than expected because the new staff it hired to build the car needed more training.

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