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Staff file photo / Volkswagen employees check items under the hood of an Atlas SUV moving down the assembly line at the Chattanooga production plant.

Two SUVs built at Volkswagen's Chattanooga assembly plant have received the highest overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, according to the automaker.

The 2020 and 2021 model Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport SUVs landed the 5-star overall safety rating from NHTSA, which runs the federal government's new-car assessment program.

According to Volkswagen of America, the NHTSA program provides frontal, side, and rollover crash test ratings with the aim of helping consumers make informed vehicle purchasing decisions.

The rating results are relayed to consumers using the recognizable star rating system from one to five, with five being the best a vehicle can achieve.

Tom Du Plessis, CEO of Volkswagen Chattanooga, said the company is hiring more employees to meet demand for its current products, including the Atlas SUVs and the Passat sedan, as well as a future electric SUV.

"There's a detailed plan and a targeted plan for recruitment. We will need additional people," he said.

The VW official said this summer that plans are to hire 150 more production employees by year's end. The plant currently employs about 3,800 employees.

Duncan Movassaghi, executive vice president of sales at Volkswagen of America, said that the company's U.S. sales rose in September over a year ago with its SUV lineup leading the way.

He said VW intends to build on that foundation and will expand next year with the new sub-compact Taos SUV and the electric ID.4 SUV. The ID.4 will undergo assembly in Chattanooga by 2022.

The automaker is investing $800 million in the Chattanooga plant, increasing its footprint by more than 750,000 square feet. The expansion includes a 564,000-square-foot addition to the body shop where Volkswagen will build both internal combustion engine vehicles and EVs on the same assembly line. Also, the company is building a 198,000-square-foot facility adjacent to its factory for the assembly of battery packs for electric vehicles.

The Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport provide a combination of both passive and active safety systems, according to VW. Both vehicles feature six airbags as standard, front and side airbags for front passengers and side curtain airbags for outboard seating positions. Electronic safety systems include an anti-lock braking system and electronic stability control.

Also, the Atlas and Cross Sport are equipped with Volkswagen's automatic post-collision braking system and intelligent crash response system as standard features, the company said.

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

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