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Staff photo by Mike Pare / Volkswagen's ID.4 electric SUV, shown sitting outside the Tennessee Aquarium, will be built at the company's Chattanooga assembly plant in 2022.

Chattanooga's Volkswagen dealership is delivering its first electric SUVs to a trio of customers this week as the automaker launches a U.S. rollout of the vehicle seen as vital to its future and the city's factory.

"It's hugely significant for us," said Mark Gillies, senior manager for product and technology communications for Volkswagen of America. "We're repositioning ourselves as an EV company."

The battery-powered ID.4, the first global EV produced by Volkswagen, is aimed at buyers in the traditional compact SUV market, he said. The ID.4 will go head to head with such big sellers as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV, which are part of a segment making up about 24% of all U.S. vehicle sales, Gillies said.

He cited the off-repeated comment of Volkswagen Chief Executive Herbert Diess that the company aims to make "EVs for millions and not millionaires," in a reference to market leader Tesla.

"Tesla's in the premium market," Gillies said. "We want to play in the big sandbox."

Brian Johnson, Village Volkswagen of Chattanooga's general sales manager, said the first ID.4 was delivered Monday and the other two by week's end, adding that the vehicles had been pre-sold.

The dealership received a demo vehicle of the ID.4, which stands for intelligent design, last week which it plans to keep for six months to show off and let customers drive, he said.

"It's everything [Volkswagen] said it was going to be," Johnson said of the five-seat SUV that VW says will get 250 miles on a full charge of its batteries. "VW invested a lot of money, especially locally, to get it going."

While the initial ID.4 SUVs are built in Germany, the automaker is spending $800 million on an expansion to produce them at its Chattanooga plant in 2022. The automaker also announced in 2019 that would hire 1,000 more workers.

Amanda Plecas, head of communications at Volkswagen Chattanooga, said that pre-series production is to begin at the plant this summer with assembly of vehicles in early 2022. Market launch of the Chattanooga-made ID.4 is slated for fall 2022.

Plecas said the plant has been hiring more employees and is still doing so for the EV ramp-up as well as existing production of the Atlas SUV, Atlas Cross Sport SUV and Passat sedan. The factory employs more than 3,800 workers.

Gillies said the first delivery in the U.S. was in Baltimore last Friday, as it's near a port the company utilizes. Those receiving the vehicles had reservations for the "First Edition" version, which is sold out, he said.

Future orders for the ID.4 are robust, Gillies said.

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Staff photo by Mike Pare / A traveler at Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport checks out Volkswagen's new electric SUV, the ID.4.

The ID.4 Pro is selling for just under $40,000. A $7,500 federal credit gets the buyer to the comparable price of mid- to high-trim compact SUVs with a gas-powered engine, according to VW.

Possible state incentives make the SUV even more affordable, Gillies said, and VW is offering three years of fast charging at Electrify America stations at no added cost. Also, fuel savings for buyers are estimated by VW at $58 monthly, or $3,500 over five years, versus a traditional SUV.

Monthly lease payments are estimated at $379 per month for a 36 months with 10,000 miles, according to VW.

Michael Grant of Chattanooga, who was checking out an ID.4 parked at Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport this week, said he liked what he saw of the vehicle. He said he already owns a hybrid Lexus.

His only concern, Grant said, was the number of miles which could be put on the SUV before recharging is needed.

But Gillies said there shouldn't be so-called range anxiety with the ID.4. People typically drive just 59 miles a day, and he expects many will recharge the batteries with a home unit that takes about eight hours, he said.

Fast chargers, such as those offered by VW subsidiary Electrify America and others on the road, can recharge the SUV's batteries from 5% to 80% in 38 minutes, Gillies said.

He expects that a future version of the ID.4 will see a little more range than 250 miles because it will be slightly lighter.

Inside the SUV, it has 30 cubic feet of space behind the second row of seats, which Gillies said is competitive to a Subaru Forester. The interior is "space shippy" through not as much as a Tesla, he said.

While the "First Edition" ID.4 has a 12-inch screen on the dash, typical will be a 10 inch, Gillies said. The vehicle also has a light bar running from side to side just under the front windshield where it meets the dash that tells the driver about a number of functions such as when the ID.4 starts, shuts down or listens to voice commands among a variety of other uses.

Gillies termed the ID.4 "the highest tech car in the market." He said the vehicle has Level Two autonomous-ready features, including an extensive driver-assist package.

"We want this to be like buying a consumer electronics item," Gillies said. "Tech sites love it. That's important for early adoption."

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

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