Volkswagen's dealer network is to convoy to Chattanooga in new Jettas in September as the automaker rolls part of the group's national convention into the city.
Dealers were to have first gathered in Nashville's Opryland Hotel before heading to Chattanooga, but devastating floods in the state's capital prompted the automaker to shift the group to Atlanta for initial meetings, according to VW.
While in Chattanooga on Sept. 23, dealers will check out progress on VW's $1 billion assembly plant, said Frank Fischer, chief executive of Volkswagen's operations in the city.
"We're excited to show the dealers," he said.
More than 700 people representing the carmaker's nearly 600-dealer network in the United States are expected to travel from Atlanta to Chattanooga via newly redesigned Jetta compact sedans.
Jenny Steuber of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau said the Opryland Hotel is closed for refurbishing because of the May flood and isn't slated to reopen until Nov. 15.
She said some conventions moved to different locations in Nashville, while some shifted to other cities.
"The Opryland Hotel is doing a lot of renovation," Steuber said. "It will be better than it was before."
Bob Doak, Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau president, said hosting VW dealers lets the city showcase itself.
"It will help us from an image standpoint and financially," he said. "Maybe it will drive more meetings or get families who come back."
The 90-minute drive to Chattanooga allows dealers to examine firsthand the new Jetta, which VW has made a little bigger. But, the German automaker is selling the compact car at a cheaper price to better compete with Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and others in its class.
The plant, scheduled to make 150,000 vehicles annually starting early next year, is to assemble a new midsize sedan. Also, there's talk of making a sport utility vehicle as well as a smaller car and potentially Audis at the Enterprise South industrial park factory.
VW officials have said about 50 of its dealers nationally are investing in their businesses as they upgrade facilities. It's estimated dealers are injecting a total of about $200 million, former VW Group of America chief Stefan Jacoby said earlier.
VW's midsize sedan will be more suited to American tastes, VW officials said. The automaker is trying to grow beyond a niche brand and become a high-volume seller in the U.S.