Village Volkswagen salespeople in Chattanooga have been biding their time, waiting for the day when cars made at the local assembly plant finally are shipped to dealers so they can start selling.
That happened Wednesday.
VW officials said they have started loading cars onto trains at the Chattanooga plant for shipment to dealers nationwide. VW Communications Manager Guenther Scherelis said the first 126 newly redesigned Passats — the only car being made at the plant so far — are to be shipped today.
“This is what we’ve been waiting on for three years,” said Dale Smith, the dealership’s general manager.
Smith must wait a little longer to get his, though.
The first cars will be sent to Washington state, California and Maine, Scherelis said. Over the next month, cars will go to dealers closer to Chattanooga.
“The most distant ones are shipped first,” he said, with dealers receiving just a few vehicles to be used for their events and early test drives by customers who may want to order a vehicle.
Scherelis said the first shipment will be finished by the last week of July. The Passat’s market introduction, when customers will be able to buy cars off dealer lots, won’t officially start until September, he said.
Carsten Krebs, Volkswagen of America’s director of corporate communications, called shipment of the first Passats “an important milestone.”
Krebs said the start of construction of the $1 billion plant in 2008 and the start of production this spring were vital markers for the German automaker. But its chief aim is, of course, to sell vehicles, he said.
“This is our business,” he said.
The all-new Passat is seen as a key product as VW tries to ramp up sales rapidly in America. The carmaker wants to nearly triple sales of its VW and Audi brands to 1 million vehicles annually by 2018.
Auto analyst Jeannine Fallon of Edmunds.com said the Passat’s price, starting at less than $20,000, is an important factor in the current economy.
“The price point is likely to be right on,” she said.
The base price is about $7,000 less than the European-made Passat the vehicle replaces.
Smith said he believes there’s “a fair amount” of pent-up demand for the Passat. He said people have seen VW employees test-driving Passats in Chattanooga.
“I think the car will be a huge hit,” he said.
Fallon said VW’s marketing effort was helped by “The Force,” the Super Bowl ad featuring a young Darth Vader that went viral.
“People remember that ad,” she said. “VW has been known for clever ads. It’s a good continuation. It’s good to get the buzz going.”
Fallon said a successful launch will require getting foot traffic into dealerships and positive test drives.
“The test drive has to be right,” she said.
VW officials have said the company has committed more than $4 billion to the U.S. initiative. More than 1,700 people have been hired, and the Chattanooga plant is on its way to 2,000 or more workers.
At full production, the plant will be able to make 150,000 vehicles a year. VW has left the door open for expansion, though officials aren’t specific about what other models may be made at the plant. Some analysts have mentioned variants of the Passat, while others have cited a sport utility vehicle or a model from Audi, VW’s sister company.
VW chief executive Martin Winterkorn, speaking to reporters at the plant’s grand opening last month, said a decision on other models could come within 12 months.
Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...