First Chattanooga buyer grabs Volkswagen Passat

First Chattanooga buyer grabs Volkswagen Passat

September 20th, 2011 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Ellen Hays talks with Frank Fischer, CEO of Chattanooga operations for Volkswagen, at Village VW on Monday.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

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.

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.

Ellen Hays talks to reporters as she takes delivery of the first Chattanooga-made Passat sold in Chattanooga at Village VW on Monday morning while her husband, Ken Hays, left, photographs the event.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

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."

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