Passat shows off in Chattanooga

Chattanoogans swarmed around a pair of new Passats on Wednesday, taking advantage of their first chance to kick the tires and slide in behind the steering wheel of the much-awaited Volkswagen.

Many gave a thumbs-up to the looks of the Chattanooga-made sedan, though some raised questions about using the Passat name, which has been around since 1973.

More important for the German automaker, however, most people said they'd consider buying the vehicle.

"I've got a Camry that's 11 years old. I'd look at [the Passat]," said Marv Martin, of Hixson, as he stood in the Chattanooga Convention Center.

VW is counting on the midsize, all-new American Passat, coupled with the compact Jetta, to drive its sales and help make the company a major player again in the United States. The car made its world premiere Monday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

On Wednesday, after a Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon keynoted by outgoing Gov. Phil Bredesen and attended by nearly 1,500 people, people quickly encircled the one black and one white Passat on display at the Chattanooga Convention Center.

photo Outgoing Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey, right, kneels with outgoing Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen and other officials as Bredesen wipes off the logo on one of the new Chattanooga-made Volkswagen Passat sedans after an unveiling ceremony in Chattanooga on Wednesday afternoon. The car was publicly shown in Chattanooga for the first time at a luncheon of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.

While they couldn't drive the cars, they did get to touch, sit in, smell and consider if they'd want to plunk down $20,000 for the base version of the sedan. The car is slated to go on sale late this year as a 2012 model.

Ryan Angel, of Chattanooga, said he liked the "sleek design" of the four-door sedan.

"It's a good-looking car," he said.

Nathan Reed, of Chattanooga, described the car as "cool looking."

"I like the styling," he said.

But that styling underwhelmed some auto critics at the Detroit auto show.

David Zoia, editorial director of, said the new car "looks well done," but that it "doesn't stand out a whole lot" in its midsize segment.

Christy Viens, of Chattanooga, insisted that the car isn't plain looking. She also said it's roomy and offers comfortable seats.

Bruce Zeiser, of Signal Mountain, said he would consider buying the car for himself or his wife.

"The trunk is large," he said, and the car has a lot of leg room in the back seat.

Chris Hennen, of Chattanooga, said hen owns a Jetta owner and, though he's happy with what he's driving now, he would consider moving over to the Passat.

COMING SUNDAYThe Times Free Press will publish a 48-page special report on Volkswagen and its new Passat.PLANT OPENINGVW plans to officially open its 2 million-square-foot Chattanooga plant this spring.

The car's name, which surprised some when it was revealed Sunday, also drew mixed reviews Wednesday.

Christa Mannarino, of Chattanooga, said she likes the Passat nameplate.

"I'm partial to it," she said. "Not having to invent the wheel is a good thing."

But Chattanoogan Dave Miller said giving the car another name would have provided it with its own heritage.

"I would have thought it would have been neat to give it a new name," he said.

Jeff Mochel, of Chattanooga, said he favored keeping the existing name.

"It's well known and not surprising," Mochel said. "People recognize VW and the name."

VW plans to make 150,000 vehicles a year at its Chattanooga plant, where it expects to employ more than 2,000 people.

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