A Volkswagen employee checks out an Atlas SUV on the assembly line at the automaker's Chattanooga plant.

Volkswagen of America's auto sales in January beat the overall market with the Chattanooga-built Atlas SUV making up more than 17 percent of the company's U.S. results last month.

The automaker's total sales of 24,744 climbed 5.2 percent in January over a year ago on the strength of the Atlas and the redesigned Tiguan SUV, VW reported on Thursday.

SUVs accounted for 52 percent of total volume for the Volkswagen brand last month. Atlas posted sales of 4,303. The 2018 Tiguan sales hit 6,336 in the month. Tiguan Limited recorded 2,034 in sales.

some text
Volkswagen employees work around vehicles as they move down the assembly line at the Volkswagen Assembly Plant Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

However, sales of the Chattanooga-made Passat fell 58.7 percent to 2,434 vehicles in the month as sedans continue to struggle as motorists move to trucks and SUVs.

Overall, the U.S. market's auto sales were slightly better last month, but most analysts and automakers predict a small full-year decline despite economic factors that favor the industry.

Automakers reported a 1 percent increase last month to 1.15 million vehicles, according to Autodata Corp.

Joe Wiesenfelder, executive editor of, said both the Atlas and Tiguan are designed for U.S. tastes and their sales will help VW reach its goal of breaking even in America as larger vehicles are more profitable.

"Providing high volume should help a lot," he said.

Wiesenfelder said there's room for VW to grow SUV sales even further with future versions of the Atlas.

"They could add power and more levels of luxury as well," he said. "They've got a lot of options."

But Mike Jackson, CEO of AutoNation, the country's largest dealership group, told The Associated Press that late-model used cars coming off leases are pulling buyers from higher-priced new vehicles.

Despite tax reform, low unemployment and strong consumer confidence, he sees new-car sales falling to 16.8 million from last year's 17.2 million.

In Hamilton County, used car registrations were the strongest in a decade.

Used vehicle sales came in at 3,202 units in January. That's the highest level of used car sales in the county since 2008 when 3,417 were sold, according to the Hamilton County Clerk's Office.

New vehicles titled in the county fell 7.8 percent in January to 1,118 from 1,213 a year ago, figures show.

In the new vehicle market nationwide, car sales fell nearly 11 percent while truck and SUV sales were up 8 percent. Other automakers with production plants in Tennessee saw increased sales:

» Nissan Group sales rose 10 percent to 123,538, a January record. Sales were led by the Rogue small SUV, which was up nearly 26 percent to more than 36,000.

» General Motors Co. sales rose 1 percent to 198,548. The Chevrolet Silverado pickup saw a 14.5 percent jump. A new Silverado goes on sale later this year, so GM is discounting the outgoing truck.

Among other automakers, Honda Motor Co. said sales were down 1.7 percent to 104,542. The CR-V small SUV, in the hottest part of the market, saw a 16.9 percent sales drop.

Ford Motor Co. sales fell 6.6 percent to 161,143, due in part to a decline in sales to rental car fleets. Car sales were down 23.3 percent.

Hyundai Motor Co. sales fell 11.3 percent from last year's record January, to 39,629. The car-heavy Korean automaker saw Sonata midsize sedan sales tumble 23.7 percent.

Toyota Motor Corp. posted a 16.8 percent increase to 167,056 vehicles on strong demand for the RAV4, Highlander and 4Runner SUVs. Sales of the revamped Camry midsize car rose 21.3 percent, bucking the SUV trend.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sales were down 13 percent due to reduced sales to fleet buyers. The company sold nearly 133,000 vehicles, led by a 2 percent increase in Jeep sales.

Subaru posted a 1.1 percent gain to 44,357 vehicles on record January sales of Crosstrek and Outback SUVs.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318.

This story was updated Feb. 1, 2018, at 10:46 p.m. with more information.