Volkswagen official proclaims new SUV as 'our new star in the U.S.'
VW unveils Atlas seven-seat sport utility vehicle to Chattanooga plant employees
Volkswagen production team leader Rita Edwards terms the new Atlas sport utility vehicle that will be assembled at the Chattanooga plant "a total success."
"We can't wait to see Atlas on American highways," she told a large roomful of fellow VW employees on Tuesday as the SUV was revealed in Chattanooga for the first time.
The German automaker took the wraps off its new seven-seat SUV to show to its plant employees, who gave the vehicle an ovation.
"This marks an important milestone for the factory," said Christian Koch, who heads the plant where the 2018 Atlas SUV will be produced alongside the Passat sedan.
Assembly is slated to start late this year, and the vehicle will go on sale in spring 2017.
"It has been hard work," Koch said. "It will be hard work as well."
Sebastian Patta, the plant's executive vice president for human resources, called the Atlas "our new star in the U.S."
He said it's "made in the U.S., even much better, made in Chattanooga, Tenn."
Before Tuesday, relatively few of the factory's 2,400 employees had the opportunity to see a fully assembled Atlas.
"If you work in the body shop, you only see raw metal in the shape of a car," said plant spokesman Scott Wilson. "It goes to the paint shop and you paint the metal, but you don't see the dashboard and the seats and carpet are installed."
Wilson said the plant has built about 200 of the SUVs at this point. He said there are three phases of "pre-series" assembly before the factory starts building vehicles which will go to dealerships for sale.
"We are currently in the third stage, working towards start of production at the end of the year," Wilson said.
Last week in California, the SUV was officially unveiled for the first time, three years after the German carmaker launched the concept at the Detroit auto show.
Hinrich J. Woebcken, chief of Volkswagen's North America region, said then that the Atlas is "the biggest and boldest Volkswagen we have ever built in the United States."
He said VW is shifting the brand in America to one that is more family friendly with the Atlas and a larger Tiguan SUV that will be rolled out next year as well.
The SUV is the result of a $900 million expansion involving the company's Chattanooga factory. The vehicle is seen as helping VW move on from the diesel-emissions scandal that has stricken the automaker for more than a year and hindered sales.
The plant is adding 1,100 people to its workforce by mid-April to expand production.
The Atlas will offer a 2.0-liter turbocharged and direct-injection TSI four-cylinder engine with 238 horsepower, according to VW. Or, it will hold a 3.6-liter VR6 engine with 280 horsepower.
Either engine routes power through an eight-speed transmission to help maximize engine efficiency, and the Atlas can be configured either as front-wheel-drive or with available 4Motion all-wheel-drive in VR6 trims.
EPA fuel economy estimates will be released ahead of the sale of the vehicle next spring.
Pricing hasn't been announced yet, but it's believed it will compete with similar class vehicles such as the Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot.
Edwards had won an internal VW contest and a trip to Santa Monica, Calif., last week and she was featured Tuesday in a snappy video of the press reveal.
"Congratulations Chattanooga for the awesome job you've done," she said on the video.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.