Chattanoogan Ellen Hays said Monday that three years ago she watched as Volkswagen officials announced they'd selected the city for its newest auto assembly plant.
"I said, 'That's my next car,'" she recalled.
On Monday, she became the first person in the city to own a Chattanooga-made Passat, picking up a black, gasoline-powered SE version of the midsize sedan at Village Volkswagen.
Hays, the wife of Chattanooga developer Ken Hays, said she had been driving a Nissan Infiniti.
"I'm missing nothing by driving a Volkswagen," said the 57-year-old consultant. "It's fabulous." Hays said she paid $25,830.
Longtime Chattanooga auto dealer Nelson Bowers, a co-owner of the dealership, said Hays is "getting a lot of car for the money." He cited both the back seat leg room and trunk space.
New Volkswagen Passat has first Chattanooga ownerEllen Hays picked up her keys Monday to drive away as the first local owner of the all-new, Chattanooga-made Volkswagen Passat.
Bowers said he expects the car will sell well. It will compete against stiff competition such as Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, Nissan Altima, Chevy Malibu and Hyundai Sonata.
Frank Fischer, chief executive of VW's Chattanooga operations, termed the day a milestone.
"Definitely. We've come a long way," he said about VW in the city.
Fischer said the plant is producing between 250 and 300 vehicles a day.
"Dealerships are anxious to get cars," he said. "In total, it's running real smooth."
The first of the all-new Passats was sold last week to a man in San Jose, Calif., as VW of America started transporting cars to West Coast states first because of the distance.
Jim Edgar, a Village Volkswagen salesman, said Hays getting the first vehicle was random. He said she had ordered the car and the dealership was able to get hers first thanks to a swap with another dealer in North Carolina.
Brad Cobb, a co-owner of the Chattanooga dealership, said Village Volkswagen has sold more than 20 Passats on order.
Hays, who said a VW Rabbit was her first car, added that she wanted to buy the Passat model with a starting price of $19,995. But that model comes with a manual transmission and she wanted an automatic.
The Tennessee Arts Commission chairwoman said she bought the car mainly because members of her family are "big Chattanooga boosters" and she wants to support a company that made the kind of commitment VW has to the city.
Hays said that after leaving the dealership Monday, she was considering taking her daughter and her daughter's boyfriend visiting from London by the nearby VW plant to see the $1 billion factory.
She quipped that her only disappointment is that she had asked to see her car being assembled, but was told no.
"Wouldn't that have been cool?" Hays asked.
Her husband, Ken, said he's sold on the Passat, too.
"I love it," he said. "It's an exciting time for Chattanooga."
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 ...