Staff Photo by Dan Henry / Volkswagen Chattanooga Chief Executive Officer Christian Koch unveiled the new Volkswagen Atlas to employees during a quarterly all-team meeting last week. The Atlas will be in production late this year and hit dealerships in spring 2017.
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A longtime Volkswagen executive with experience at the company's giant factory in Mexico has been named as the new chief of the automaker's Chattanooga assembly plant.

Antonio Pinto, named executive vice president of operations in Chattanooga effective Aug. 1, is replacing Christian Koch, who is returning to Germany to pursue his next assignment for VW, which wasn't disclosed.

Koch had taken over for Frank Fischer in 2014 at the factory that started making the Passat sedan in 2011. During Koch's tenure, the Chattanooga plant launched a Passat makeover and underwent a $900 million expansion to build the Atlas midsize SUV, which went on sale in May.

Pinto will report to Hinrich J. Woebcken, CEO of Volkswagen of America, which is headquartered in Herndon, Va. He will also report to Andreas Hinrichs, the chief production officer for VW's North American region.

Bill Kilbride, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's CEO, said Koch accomplished a lot during his time in preparing for the Atlas roll-out and dealing with the fallout of the diesel-emissions issue.

"He did so much," he said, adding that he has heard initial sales of the Atlas are exceeding expectations.

Pinto has over 30 years of production experience, having joined the Volkswagen Group in 1994 as the head of assembly for Volkswagen Autoeuropa, an assembly plant located near Lisbon, Portugal.

He spent two years in Volkswagen of Mexico and, in 2014, moved to Volkswagen South Africa as the director of production where he spent three years. He then moved back to Volkswagen of Mexico, where he has been serving as the vice president of production and logistics.

In Mexico, VW is ramping up production of its newly designed Tiguan SUV out of its Puebla facility, the company's largest assembly plant outside of Germany.

The factory that opened in 1967 also assembles the Golf, the Beetle and the Jetta, employing 14,000 people.

Kilbride said he looks forward to talking with Pinto and continuing Chamber efforts to help the VW plant grow. VW has bolstered its workforce over the past year or so to about 3,450 in Chattanooga.

"We'll do everything we can to help," Kilbride said.

The company has said it's looking to hit full production in Chattanooga by 2020 and add more SUVs and possibly electric cars. VW is eyeing assembly of a five-seat SUV to go with the seven-seat Atlas. VW's expanded factory now can produce about 250,000 vehicles a year.

Jack Nerad, Kelley Blue Book's executive editorial director, said there's a lot of excess capacity at the plant which VW would like to use.

"They're trying to sell where they build, which is sensible," he said.

Kilbride said the leadership turnover in Chattanooga brings people who have experience with different cultures.

"A lot of what's put into the Passat and Atlas still comes from overseas," he said, adding that executives learn how to innovatively maximize the supply chain.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318.