Volkswagen Atlas Aims For Heart Of US Crossover Market

It started back in 2013 as the CrossBlue concept, a full size, seven passenger crossover SUV for the American market. Something that Volkswagen dealers could offer people looking for a Ford Explorer, a Honda Pilot, or a Toyota Highlander. The dealers have been clamoring for such a vehicle as they watched people turn their noses up at the Tiguan and Tuareg models they had to offer. Smaller and pricier than the competition, sales languished while the market for crossovers boomed.

Volkswagen Atlas crossover

The America dealers complained bitterly about clueless company executives back in Germany who couldn’t seem to get off the dime and get the CrossBlue into production. Now, their long wait is over. VW has approved production for what will be called the Atlas — a full seven passenger crossover SUV that is as long as the current Ford Explorer and longer than either the Pilot or Highlander. Production will begin in the spring.

“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.”

The Atlas has three seats in its second row. The two outer seats slide forward and back independently of the middle seat. The third row seats two adults and can be accessed even with child seats installed in the second row. It will be built in VW’s Chattanooga factory, which will allow it to be priced in the “heart of the competitive SUV market.” Final pricing and fuel economy numbers have not yet been released.

The standard engine is a 238 horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four cylinder. A 3.6 liter VR6 with 280 horsepower is available. Both engines are coupled to an eight speed dual clutch transmission. All wheel drive is an option with the larger engine. The four cylinder is front wheel drive only.

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. Automatic emergency braking, active lane-assist, forward collision warning and adaptive cruise control will also be available

At more than 198 inches in length, the Atlas is the largest vehicle ever built on Volkswagen’s MQB scalable platform architecture. That platform is also used for the Golf and will be the basis for the next generation Passat and Jetta sedans.

Michael DiFeo of Linden Volkswagen in Elizabeth, N.J. says the Atlas offers better fit and finish and driving dynamics than key competitors such as the Highlander and Explorer. He says pricing will be critical to success. “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.”

The original CrossBlue concept featured a plug-in hybrid powertrain but there is no suggestion the production car will come with a plug. That’s a shame. Volkswagen already has the technology ready to go. Chrysler is about to introduce a plug-in version of its Pacific minivan. VW could have given itself a significant advantage in the marketplace by making the Atlas the first large crossover to offer a plug-in hybrid powertrain.

Like Mitsubishi with its oft delayed Outlander PHEV, Volkswagen is being way too cautious here. Instead of digging itself out of its diesel emission scandal with bold leadership, it is just offering customers a “me too” vehicle. Wolfsburg has passed up a golden opportunity to offer something no one else has. Opportunities like that don’t happen every day.

Source: Automotive News    Photo credit: Volkswagen

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.