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Contributed photo by Volkswagen Chattanooga

A little more than nine years after the first Chattanooga-built Volkswagen Passat sedan rolled off the assembly line, the factory has produced its 1 millionth vehicle.

The car that hit the milestone also is a Passat — a 2020 Aurora Red Metallic R-Line, according to the German automaker.

"It's gratifying to me that our team is back to work and able to mark yet another key milestone since the opening of VW's Chattanooga plant," said Tom du Plessis, president and CEO of Volkswagen Chattanooga. "Part of us getting back to normal is taking time to recognize these important achievements which are only possible because of the hard work and commitment of our exceptional team here in Chattanooga."

The Chattanooga plant has assembled Passats since 2011. The Atlas SUV and Atlas Cross Sport SUV were later added to the plant's production line-up.

The first Passat and those still produced at the plant are specifically designed for the U.S. market. It's larger than the European vehicle to offer the kind of interior and trunk space that American buyers expect from a midsize sedan.

But sedans over the past few years have fallen out of favor as motorists shifted to buying more SUVs and trucks, and VW has turned to take advantage of that trend.

In the first quarter, for example, 14,278 Atlas SUVs were sold compared to 5,981 Passats, according to Volkswagen of America.

VW MILESTONES

* July 15, 2008: Chattanooga factory announced

* Feb. 3, 2009: Construction starts

* April 18, 2011: First customer Passat rolls off line

* May 31, 2012: 100,000th Passat produced

* May 23, 2013: 250,000th Passat made

* July 14, 2014: Midsize SUV announced

* May 7, 2018: 700,000th Passat produced

* Jan. 14, 2019: EV expansion announced

* Oct. 11, 2019: Atlas Cross Sport unveiled

* June 3, 2020: Total production hits 1 million

Source: Volkswagen

Volkswagen's SUV sales in January and February were up 15% over a year ago before sales of all vehicles slid due to the coronavirus outbreak in March.

Duncan Movassaghi, Volkswagen of America's executive vice president of sales and marketing, said the automaker's performance through February was "outstanding and reinforced our confidence in our strategy."

Last November, Volkswagen started construction of an $800 million expansion to the Chattanooga plant to begin assembly of an all-electric SUV called the I.D.4.

The Chattanooga plant will start electric vehicle production in 2022 as it serves as VW's North American base for manufacturing EVs.

Plant CEO du Plessis said last month that construction of the expansion is on time. Work had continued on the addition even as production shut down for more than two months due to the coronavirus.

VW officials have said that the company sees an opening to sell Passats as other automakers such as Ford and General Motors pull back from producing sedans.

The plant has grown to employ about 3,800 people has produced more than 700,000 Passats, and it recently started assembly of the 2020 Atlas Cross Sport SUV and the facelifted 2021 Atlas.

Over the years, Chattanooga-assembled vehicles have been sold in the U.S. and exported to Canada, Mexico, Russia, South Korea, and the Middle East, according to VW.

The 2020 Passat is available in four trim levels with a starting price of $22,995 for the Passat S. A 2.0-liter turbocharged and direct-injection TSI four-cylinder engine that makes 174 horsepower and 206 pound-feet of torque is paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission on all models.

Standard features include 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, full LED lighting, App-Connect, Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Monitoring (Front Assist), Blind Spot Monitor, and Rear Traffic Alert, according to VW.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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