› Atlas TSI S — starts at $30,500
› Atlas S Launch — $33,500
› Atlas SE — $33,590
› Atlas SE with Technology — $35,690
› Atlas SEL — $39,160
› Atlas SEL Premium — $48,490
Destination charge for Atlas trims is $925.
Source: Volkswagen of America
Tennessee gubernatorial candidate Randy Boyd said Thursday that the first impression of his new Volkswagen Atlas sport utility vehicle was that it exceeded his expectations.
Officials at Chattanooga's Village Volkswagen dealership, where Boyd picked up the first Atlas sold in America, hope that feeling carries over to lots of other customers.
With the start of sales for VW's Chattanooga-made Atlas, the German automaker is pinning many of its aspirations for a surge in the U.S. on the new seven-seat vehicle and other SUVs.
Jeremy Holsomback, Village Volkswagen's general manager, said VW has never competed in the three-row SUV market before the Atlas.
"It's a well-needed vehicle in this segment," he said after Boyd drove away in a top-of-the-line Tourmaline (Navy) Blue Atlas SEL Premium that sells for about $49,400 with destination charges.
Chattanooga plant spokesman Scott Wilson said the factory now employs about 3,450 people assembling the Atlas and the Passat midsize sedan, which is a new high number for the site.
He said hiring will continue until about the time that Atlas production reaches its peak.
"I don't know how long that will continue. When it reaches its peak , it will begin to settle out," Wilson said.
Jeannine Ginivan, Volks- wagen Group of America's senior manager for corporate communications, said top VW officials in the U.S. believe the Atlas is a symbol of a turnaround for the company in the wake of the diesel emissions scandal.
"It's getting close to the American market," she said. "It's a year to rebuild in the U.S. We're definitely looking forward to this year."
VW is shifting from a brand known for small cars and sedans to what it sees as a more family friendly, full-line automaker. As it grows its SUV sales, the company expects to have products in four of the five key market segments by mid-2017.
In addition to the Atlas, VW is introducing a new, longer three-row Tiguan SUV this summer as part of its sport utility vehicle offensive in America. The automaker will additionally keep selling its current two-row Tiguan and its higher-priced Touareg.
Also, last month, VW officials said they believe there's room for a five-seat small SUV that would be a derivative of the Atlas. The company said "a natural location" for production of that vehicle would be the Chattanooga plant.
Holsomback said that while the five-seater isn't formally announced, he sees a place in the market for it as well.
"Absolutely, we'd like to see it," he said.
Boyd, the former Tennessee commissioner of economic and community development who is a Republican candidate for the state's top job, said he'd support VW if it formally announces it will make the five-seat SUV in Chattanooga.
"I think sometimes we spend so much time chasing the new company and the new deal we sometimes lose sight of the partners we have," he said.
The Knoxville businessman put down $5,000 on a new Atlas about 18 months ago following a visit to the Chattanooga plant as ECD commissioner. At the time, he said, there were questions swirling about VW's commitment to the plant and the SUV amid the diesel scandal.
Also, some VW workers were demoralized as neighbors would look at them as if they had done something wrong, Boyd said.
"No Tennesseans did anything wrong," he said, telling some VW employees that "we've got your back."
Boyd said that while it's nice to say things, to show a commitment, he wrote the deposit check for the SUV.
"My wife said 'What are you going to do with an extra car?' Conveniently now I'm running for governor. This will be the new campaign car. I look forward to putting it on the road tonight," he said.
Boyd, who was an architect of the state's Drive to 55 workforce development initiative and the Tennessee Promise scholarship program, said that for companies like VW to grow, there has to be enough people with skills to fill jobs at the plant.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.
This story was updated May 18 at 10:37 p.m. with more information.