Volkswagen on Thursday revealed the Atlas, a seven-passenger large crossover aimed at U.S. family buyers that has been in the works since it was previewed by the CrossBlue concept at the 2013 Detroit auto show.
After three years of falling U.S. sales and a reputation marred by VW's diesel-emissions scandal, VW and its dealers view the Atlas as the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. With a U.S.-only name and hefty size, executives say the crossover is proof of the automaker's commitment to success in the U.S. after years of bungled tries amid interference from Germany.
"This is the biggest and boldest Volkswagen we have ever built in the United States, delivering the distinctive design and craftsmanship we're known for, now with room for seven," Hinrich Woebcken, CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, said in a statement. "The Atlas marks a brand new journey for Volkswagen to enter into the heart of the American market."
VW is building the Atlas alongside the Passat at its U.S. plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, following a $900 million investment in the factory.
For years, VW dealers have ached for a competitive crossover while straining to sell VW's current crossovers -- the pricey and diminutive Tiguan compact and the Touareg, an upscale midsize vehicle more at home in an Audi showroom.
The Atlas will give VW its first crossover tailored for American buyers when it goes on sale next spring.
At more than 198 inches (5029mm) in overall length, the Atlas is the VW Group's largest model based on its MQB scalable platform architecture for compact and midsize cars. It's also as long as the Ford Explorer and longer than the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander, the Atlas' three primary competitors in VW's eyes.
The Atlas seats three in its second row, with two outer seats that can slide forward and back independently of the middle seat. VW claims the third row can seat two adults, and be accessed even with child seats installed in the second row.
A 238-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine powers entry-level Atlas models while an optional 3.6-liter VR6 puts out 280 hp. Both engines are combined with an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. A 4Motion all-wheel-drive system is optional on V-6 models; four-cylinder Atlas' are fwd-only.
Pricing: 'A big factor'
Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Mirror Link are standard. Available options include VW's Car-Net connectivity system and Volkswagen's Digital Cockpit, a customizable digital instrument cluster based on the same technology used by luxury sibling Audi.
Also available are a suite of driver-assist features, including automatic emergency braking, active lane-assist, forward collision warning and adaptive cruise control.
Many details about the Atlas were not announced, including fuel economy, most technical specifications and pricing.
Achieving competitive pricing vs. the competition has been a challenge for VW, which imports most of its U.S. lineup. VW says assembling the Atlas in the U.S. will allow it to price the crossover in the "heart of the competitive SUV market."
That will be key to the Atlas' success, says Michael DiFeo, dealer principal of Linden VW in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He says the Atlas offers better fit and finish and driving dynamics than key competitors such as the Highlander and Explorer, but a pricey sticker will make drawing customers to the showroom difficult.
"It's really going to come down to pricing," DiFeo said. "That’s not something we know yet and that’s something that's going to be a big factor in determining its volume."