DEARBORN, MI – Not a dollar was spared in the creation of the interiors for Volkswagen’s latest Jetta and Passat, says the auto maker’s top U.S. designer.

When the cars debuted, critics found fault with their cabins, saying VW had cut too much cost, reducing content and scaling back on material quality in order to lower sticker prices and widen their market appeal.

But Jae Min, chief designer-group interior at VW’s Design Center California, says that never happened.

“We didn’t take (cost) out,” he says at the 2012 WardsAuto Interiors Conference here. “We just rebalanced where (the money was spent). We moved it from here to there.

“Whatever was taken out went right back in,” the designer says, adding cost savings were achieved via a new, more flexible architecture for the cars and a shift in manufacturing from Germany to VW’s new Chattanooga, TN, plant.

The strategy appears to be paying off, he says, pointing to increased U.S. sales for both models. Jetta deliveries were up 43.9% last year, while Passat sales jumped 80.9%, according to WardsAuto data.

Even more surprisingly, the transaction prices of the two cars have held steady despite their lower base prices, a trend that took even VW by surprise, Min says.

VW says Passat transaction prices range about $26,000-$27,000, compared with its $19,995 base price. The Jetta is going out the door at $21,500-$22,500, the auto maker says, well above its $16,495 base.

Also unexpected is the heightened interest in the new Jetta in Germany, where sales of the car are said to be up. The previous-gen model was based on the Golf platform, and its smaller size was considered more suitable for European markets.

The current Jetta is derived from a new architecture that allowed VW to increase its dimensions and interior room to suit American tastes, and it turns out that also is playing well in the brand’s home market, Min says.

“That was a surprise, because it was designed for this market,” he says of German demand. “It goes to show you, people are the same everywhere.”

Min’s operation didn’t fully design the two U.S.-centric cars, but it did create concepts for the models that were taken across the finish line by VW’s design center in Germany.

The California studio could be given more autonomy in the future, now that the auto maker has a plant in the U.S. and is focusing on increasing volume here, Min concedes. “But I hope not,” he says, adding he believes it is important VW design remains “under one roof.”

Still, Min says his design center will play a bigger role in influencing future vehicle styling, even as VW puts more emphasis on selling cars in emerging markets.

“There is a lot of attention being paid to (China), now the world’s biggest market,” he notes. “But you can’t be a global player without having a profound place in the U.S.

“The U.S. is a gateway to many of those emerging markets,” he adds, pointing to trends in consumer electronics and infotainment that often start here. “So without a strong foothold in the U.S., you can’t be a player in those markets.”

dzoia@wardsauto.com