Passat orders roll in as dealers tout showroom models

Passat orders roll in as dealers tout showroom models

July 30th, 2011 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Janet Dobson bends over to feel the upholstery in a Passat while her husband Chuck talks with a sales representative at Village Volkswagen.

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.

Chattanoogan Shelda Rees calls herself "a Toyota girl."

But the woman is giving up her Avalon for a Volkswagen Passat, being one of the first in the city to have ordered the new Chattanooga-made sedan.

"We were able to go out [to Village Volkswagen] and drive one," she said of the visit to the dealership with her husband. "We have an order in for the diesel because of the gas mileage."

VW dealers nationwide have received their first Passats off the $1 billion plant's assembly line, according to the automaker. The cars, about two per dealer, are show vehicles. But salesmen can take orders for delivery to customers later this year.

Rees said she expects to receive hers in September or October, about the time the cars become generally available.

Carsten Krebs, VW of America's corporate communications director, said the company is targeting potential Passat buyers such as Rees as the automaker tries to power up sales in the United States.

The Japanese brands including Toyota, Honda and Nissan have big market shares in the midsize segment, he said.

"The most important are the Japanese brands," Krebs said.

Ron Kwiatkowski, new vehicle sales manager for Village Volkswagen in Chattanooga, said the dealership has seven buyers after having the Passat a little more than a week.

"We're showing it off and taking orders," he said.

In addition to making the cars available at the dealership, Kwiatkowski said he is taking the Passats to potential customers. Earlier this week, for example, employees at Erlanger's Gunbarrel Road facility test drove one, he said.

Brian Duke, customer relations manager at Al Johnson Volkswagen in Dalton, Ga., said the dealership is displaying the cars at events such as golf tournaments.

"They've been all over town," he said, adding salesmen there are taking orders as well.

Rees, who works for the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she first saw the car in May when she and a German travel writer visited the plant.

Then, she said, she and her husband checked them out at the Riverbend Festival where some were on display. Her husband is tall, so interior room is important, Rees said.

"It has plenty of room," she said, also citing the back seat and trunk.

Rees said she especially liked the diesel Passat that VW said can get 43 mpg on the highway.

She said this will be her first VW, though her husband drove a Scirocco before their marriage.

"It's going to be mine," Rees said. "I'm the primary driver."