Auto journalists driving VW Passat in Chattanooga

Auto journalists driving VW Passat in Chattanooga

June 1st, 2011 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Tony Bowden, automative manager for Volkswagen, finishes cleaning up the new Volkswagen Passat on display for the reception and dinner for international media Tuesday evening at the Hunter Museum of Art in Chattanooga, Tenn. Dozens of international automobile journalists attended the event to view the new car from Volkswagen and to enjoy a small gallery of art on display at the museum related to Volkswagen. Staff photo by Jenna Walker/Chattanooga Times Free Press

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PASSAT FEATURES

* Standard automatic dual-zone climate control and Bluetooth connectivity

* Class-leading rear seat legroom

* No charge three-year, 36,000-mile maintenance program

Source: Volkswagen

Auto journalists from across the country will begin test drives in Chattanooga today in the new Volkswagen Passat as the car soon heads to dealer showrooms nationally.

About 150 people from across the country will visit the city over the next couple of weeks while the German carmaker undertakes likely its most important new vehicle launch in the U.S. in decades.

Starting at the plant today, writers will receive an overview of the 2012 Passat, tour the Chattanooga factory, talk to executives and drive the car to Nashville.

This is the second group of auto writers to visit the city this year.

"They'll tell the story about this car," said Volkswagen of America spokeswoman Amelia Fine-Morrison on Tuesday.

She said the group will include both print and digital journalists.

Jeannine Fallon of the auto website Edmunds.com said VW clearly has as its goal to become a major player in the U.S.

"They've taken a lot of steps," she said, such as the construction of the $1 billion plant in Chattanooga and the building of the new Passat that officials for the automaker say is designed to appeal to American tastes.

Just last week, top VW Group executives reiterated the goal to sell 1 million vehicles in the U.S. annually by 2018, which is about triple sales last year.

Michael Macht, VW's board member for production, said at the plant's inauguration that cars such as the Passat and redesigned Jetta and Beetle mark a new chapter for the automaker in America.

"Das Auto is finally back in the states," he said.

Jonathan Browning, VW of America's chief executive, said the automaker's U.S. strategy represents a $4 billion commitment in the market.

He said the Passat is "a key driver of our long-term success" in the U.S.

Browning said VW investments such an in an electronics research laboratory in Silicon Valley in California, the largest research facility outside of Germany, are "transforming our brand in the U.S. marketplace."

Also, VW has priced the Passat at just below $20,000 at $19,995 for the base model, about $7,000 less than the vehicle it replaces in the market, which Fallon said is "a good start."

She said at the end of the day, product is the most important factor for the automaker's U.S. strategy.

VW needs products that appeal to a wide range and to keep them fresh and competitive, Fallon said.

"There's no resting on its laurels," she said.

The car is expected to go on sale in early fall.