DETROIT - Volkswagen late Sunday unveiled the first images of the new Chattanooga-made sedan that will feature a familiar name - Passat.
Volkswagen AG Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn said the new-for-America Passat and its other vehicles send "a strong message."
"Volkswagen is back," he told a large group of VW officials and Tennesseans on the eve of the Detroit auto show. "Volkswagen is at home in America."
The new Passat, which translates to "tradewind" in German, will start at about $20,000, much less than the existing Passat.
Outgoing Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen said VW spent a lot of time and energy designing a car that targets the American market.
"I think it will be successful," he said about the midsize sedan.
Today, VW officially will roll out the car at the North American International Auto Show here.
Jonathan Browning, CEO of VW Group of America, said the company has "built one of the most advanced and environmentally sensitive plants in the world."
Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, who was present at the show, quipped that the new car is like "having another baby."
Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey, also in Detroit, said the vehicle is "a beautiful car."
"It's very driveable, roomy, good acceleration," he said.
Volkswagen, with its Chattanooga plant helping to lead the way, hopes to double U.S. sales in two to three years, to 450,000 vehicles. By 2018, the auto company wants to sell 1 million VWs and Audis in the United States.
VW has introduced more than a half-dozen new models in America in the past couple of years and more are coming, company officials said.
Industry insiders say a redesigned, Mexican-made Beetle is expected to go on sale later this year along with the midsize Passat.
With the new Passat, Volkswagen hopes to capture the heart of the American market and eclipse Toyota as the No. 1 foreign automaker.
VW officials have said the Chattanooga plant will be able to produce 150,000 vehicles a year and will employ more than 2,000 people. They've also talked about the potential to expand the plant's size.
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