By on November 12, 2016

Volkswagen Atlas, Image: © 2016 Seth Parks/The Truth About Cars

The journey Volkswagen’s uber-American midsize crossover took between CrossBlue concept and Atlas production model was a long one, but it isn’t over.

Though production begins next month in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the model created in the hopes of tapping America’s utility vehicle addiction leaves many questions about its future unanswered.

Speaking to Wards Auto, Matthias Erb, chief engineering officer for VW in North America and head of its Chattanooga engineering center, implies that getting the model to customers in any form was Job No. 1 for the struggling automaker.

Sporting three rows and styling that can only be described as generic, the Atlas is the vanguard of VW’s SUV-heavy push into the U.S. marketplace. The automaker is counting on the Atlas and future utility models to reclaim sales ground lost due to the diesel emissions scandal. There’s also that pesky issue of buyers shunning cars — VW’s traditional sales territory — in growing numbers.

The Atlas closes “the biggest gap” in the automaker’s lineup, Erb told Wards Auto.

It was long rumored that the model would come in a plug-in hybrid version, but that plan isn’t set in stone. Erb claims the company hasn’t yet decided if a heavily electrified version should join the Atlas range.

“This is a thing we are still discussing, Erb said. “At the moment, the plug-in is not so very attractive to us because of the upstream emissions (greenhouse gasses produced in the generation of electricity).”

He added, “We really don’t know how attractive those cars are anymore because the CO2 balance is not much better than the balance of (conventional) hybrid vehicles.”

A plug-in is still possible, but so is a conventional hybrid, he said. As well, VW is open to letting other models carry the hybrid burden, even though Erb admits there are customers willing to pay a premium for the technology.

“This is open,” he said. “We have a certain strategy, and I can’t really talk about that, but we’re still considering where (in the model lineup) to electrify and where not to electrify so much.”

The automaker has a range of hybrids and battery electric vehicles planned as part of its 2025 product strategy. Development carries a steep price tag, and the Atlas sits at the core of VW’s fundraising efforts.

Offered initially in a seven-seat configuration to battle the likes of the Ford Explorer and other mid-sizers, a more stripped-down Atlas variant could be on the way.

“If you look into the SUV segment, you can see that it is kind of separated into two parts, 7-seaters and 5-seaters, and in our opinion it would make perfect sense to also offer a 5-seater,” Erb said. It’s possible that the Atlas could sport two wheelbase lengths in the future, he added.

[Image: © 2016 Seth Parks/The Truth About Cars]

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38 Comments on “Volkswagen’s Atlas Strategy: Plug the Hole Now, Worry About Choice Later...”


  • avatar
    TDIandThen....

    They really have no idea what the faaaaahhhhhh they’re doing. This comment section could prolly do a better job than the gobbledygook that guy just said.

    • 0 avatar
      Old Man Pants (nee Kenmore)

      “prolly”

      In my 62 years I’ve had the misfortune to endure close and sustained proximity with all manner of deficient (except in noise & odor) talking bipeds.

      I’ve never yet heard any one of them say that.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        I’m probably your vintage OMP, and I HAVE heard that “word” said, several times. Two speakers were British, and one was an Aussie, so that might be a hint where it comes from.

        • 0 avatar
          Old Man Pants (nee Kenmore)

          Ahh… OK, that sounds like something ozzies or oiks would say. Thanks!

          • 0 avatar
            TDIandThen....

            Me deets and me demos, den: 45 yo. male born in the Usonian Midwest. Four years of Latin in school, lived in ten countries, I grok aboot five yazziks (Nadset excepted of course). Me mamoochka is a Scots Medieval studied-laydee. Thar I ha aeven larned tha, yazziks end groking, r all them social makes-ups. Hoi, eaven spells-rules arr neu – sole five hannerd yarss Auld, maybe.

            Language is fun, if you let it.

          • 0 avatar
            Old Man Pants (nee Kenmore)

            “lived in ten countries, I grok aboot five yazziks”

            You prolly met Tömörbaatar. Biggest yurt in Ulaangom… must be six, eight Yamaha quads always parked outside… ?

          • 0 avatar
            TDIandThen....

            Skidoos first, quads second! Funny you mention him, I lived in Kyrgyzstan and have a smatter of Altaic language but haven’t been to western Mongolia. Yet!

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

          I think I heard Picard say it once. Anyway it sounded familiar somehow when I read it.

          Gobbledygook
          ^
          Its in my device’s dictionary, and I didn’t put it there.

          • 0 avatar
            TDIandThen....

            ‘Gobbledygook’

            I believe Rudyard Kipling put it there, an early motoring enthusiast who did a thing or two in and for modern English.

  • avatar
    TOTitan

    I like it. I will be building my last house on the 10 acres in Colorado I own next year. This seems like it would a good replacement for out 16 sportwagen tsi

  • avatar
    Old Man Pants (nee Kenmore)

    Showing up years late, fat and demanding for a job opening long since over-filled.

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      Pretty good summary of my feelings about this pre-launch anouncement. Late, unqualified, and a history of dishonesty. This looks more like a heatshield for someone’s butt when the inevitable happens; “we tried an SUV for the Americans, it didn’t work.”

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    It may be impossible for German auto designers to grasp Americans’ attraction to what’s new and different. What the companies need to do is expose potential designer hires to the offerings of Ford, GM, Chrysler, Studebaker, Packard, Hudson, Nash, and AMC in the period from 1945 to 1965. They should hire only the ones who were intrigued by the staggering variations in the 3-box theme, and tell the rest to go into appliance design. In other words, this vehicle needs fins, and chrome – lots of chrome!

    • 0 avatar
      Old Man Pants (nee Kenmore)

      Mistah 3-box… he dead.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      “…this vehicle needs fins…”

      I’m sure NHTSA and IIHS would love some protruding sharp pieces of metal.

      I bet IIHS in particular would have a great time thinking up a new “test” to show how every member of the public who as much as sees one will be killed. They are very effective at injecting fear into people. How many dozens of people do you know who have been killed by a modern Nissan Quest?

      Yes, I realize they do some good, they just tend to get carried away, but not as much as the safety freaks who overreact to their proclamations.

      The chrome I could see…if this was not a big Passat wagon and was actually an honest-to-goodness BOF SUV. But, this is VW *and* the North American market we are talking about here. 0 chance of that being the case.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    “Plug the hole now, worry about choice later…” Is that an abortion joke?

  • avatar
    gasser

    Generic looks, no five seat model, a lack of reputation for reliability, heavy, heavy competition.
    They will have to give these away to establish a toehold in the SUV race. Look at the current crop of SUVs: they are more and more car like in their ride/handling. No one seems to be begging for a more “Germanic” feel for an urban traffic fighter.
    After the initial 14 die hard VW fans buy theirs, who will be their customers??

  • avatar

    Volkswagen is a brand in search of an identity in the US. Too bad they tossed their old identity away under a fog of hubris unequaled in modern automotive history.

    Now they’re Just Another Car Company.

    Unless and until they can convince buyers that an Atlas is a better choice than an Explorer/Highlander etc…the old “Das Auto” guys are going to be searching.

  • avatar

    This thing’s ace-up-its-sleeve was a TDi 4Motion premium 3-row haulin’ rig that will never, ever manifest itself here stateside, which means this thing ends up being dead-sights in Borrego territory – too little, too late, a great steal as a second-hand acquisition after Avis, DTAG, and captive lease turn-ins flood the market ~ 2018/9.

    A plug-in variant? A hybird? So they can sell a baker’s dozen a month (maybe) a la the Jetta Hybrid?

    VW has completely lost the script. Though I’ll continue to enjoy buying year-old Jettas and Beetles with mileage in the single-digits for 50-65% of MSRP and making more gross than the average VW dealer prior to backend.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      I have been seeing a fair number of Borregos lately, heck I think I’ve seen more since they went out of production since when they were in production.

      I hope TTAC keeps us updated on monthly/quarterly/yearly sales figures for this sucker. Right now I feel like VW will be lucky if the Atlas sells in CX-9 numbers.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        I like the idea of a 4wd Borrego. I wouldn’t mind driving one to see how I’d actually like it. Seems sturdy enough, offering BOF and 6 or 8 cyls, without being *another* Expedition or Tahoe (etc) at the same intersection.

        Granted, 95% of the SUVs I see are 2wd anyway, and I’m not interested in those.

        • 0 avatar
          87 Morgan

          JohnTaurus…you must live in the south or sun belt. Living in CO, I just don’t grasp the idea of a 2wd SUV. So many better options to drive. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Suburban. But a 2wd version if I did not NEED the 4wd? No thanks.

          But to your point of “Seems sturdy enough, offering BOF and 6 or 8 cyls, without being *another* Expedition or Tahoe (etc) at the same intersection”. Tahoe and Expedition bring durability to the table that many are unwilling to forgo. Guy up the street just replaced his 01′ expedition (the bubble version) with a new (er) square model. Old one had 270k. He figured it was time to upgrade.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

            ” I just don’t grasp the idea of a 2wd SUV.”

            You and I are in full agreement. The only thing I can equate a 2wd Tahoe (etc) to is a pre-van “Pannel truck”, just with seats and windows for some reason.

            Yes, they can still tow, but a huge majority of those I see (and yes I’m deep in the Dirty South) have no receiver hitch. So, its just a big van to them. Granted its nicer to drive a Tahoe than it is an Express, but it just seems like it has one hand tied behind its back being RWD only.

            My friend has a later-build 2nd gen Tahoe 2wd. Her husband works around the country and right now, he is in Wisconsin, at the top right corner on the map, on the border with Michigan and on the bay. She thought about driving up there, but I reminded her that she is inexperienced in snow/ice and her 2wd Tahoe or worse, her 04 Mustang 5spd, would be a handful up there when winter really hits.

            I do agree on Expedition and Tahoe’s records for durability. Her Tahoe has 314k miles, she’s had it for quite a long time and nothing major (and very little minor, notably the instrument cluster) has required repair. The 5.3L runs great, and it gets better mileage than her previous 2wd I-6 Grand Cherokee according to her (which was extremely problematic, other than the engine itself, after about 150k miles iirc).

            I once met a lady who sells large sewing machines, the ones that take up a decent sized room. She uses her ’04ish Expedition 2wd exactly as one would have used an original Ford Pannel truck: hauling cargo. The Expy had I believe it was 348k. She bought it new, and said the only item it has required outside of routine maintenance was an alternator. She said it was the first Ford she has ever had, but definitely not the last. Lol

            I just was saying the Kia being BOF and fairly unique were qualities I found appealing. I certainly wasn’t implying it was a solid choice over a GM or Ford BOF SUV (except maybe IRS SOHC 4.0L Explorer, or the TrailBlazer? IDK).

            *edit, my friend did hint that she wanted me to drive her up there and stay with my Taurus, providing transportation (as usual, because she hates driving). I do have snow/ice driving experience and I trust my Taurus to make it, but chance salt/rust damage? Phucknaw. I said we could rent an AWD CUV (!) and I’ll drive, but she flew up there instead. Haha

          • 0 avatar
            George B

            87 Morgan, I can’t remember the last time I saw a 4wd full size SUV here in Texas. Not very common where I grew up in SE Kansas either. There’s a huge land area in North America where BOF trucks are desirable for rough gravel roads and towing, but deep snow is uncommon. It’s fairly common for people to own both a 2wd truck for day-to-day use and a smaller off-road 4wd for recreation.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      I agree totally on the appealing price markdown on this rig after a couple years.
      But I’m uneasy about the total cost of ownership in years 3/4/5.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      The Borrego was launched as a BOF SUV just when everybody (Ford, GM, Toyota) were jumping ship to unibody FWD. That isn’t the case here.

      OTOH, Kia’s star was rising in the late 2000s as higher quality and better designs were making some headway.

      The same (“rising star”) can’t be said for VW now, on the heels of a scandal unlike we have never seen before, and after years before that of relative stagnation in this (U.S./Can.) market, even with cheating diesels padding sales figures.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

    I actually think it looks handsome against the Pathfinder (esp. pre-refresh, sheesh), Toyota, Traverse (but not Acadia) and Hyundai-Kia’s similar offerings.

    The squared off, broad shoulders look is more becoming for an SUV/CUV than a squishy blob that was the pre-refresh (and post a bit, but its much improved) Ford Explorer and the nose-stuck-up Highlander especially.

    The current Pilot I’m neutral on, but I liked the squared off bodystyle most.

    Look at it this way, Ford Flex owners will have something to buy, if need be, for a new semi-niche, pseudo-European, squared off minivan substitute.

    • 0 avatar

      The current Pilot is an abortion mistakenly brought to full term. The proportions on the road are ungainly at best to embarrassing at worst. The prior to Generations were inoffensive and somewhat clean.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        I can’t say I feel that strongly about it, I find some others far more offensive, as I mentioned. Like I said, I neither like nor dislike it I guess.

        This isn’t a market I’d be in anyway, I’m just a passer-by, giving my thoughts on styling of entry’s in this segment.

      • 0 avatar
        Old Man Pants (nee Kenmore)

        “The current Pilot is an abortion mistakenly brought to full term.”

        Much as I hate agreeing with anyone in FL about anything, I’m forced to admit that even Honda, whom I adore and for whom I hope to work myself to karōshi in the next life, can no longer ignore fluid dynamics with the Pilot.

        If only they could find a way to transition the front clip into the fenders that didn’t remind me of the ’61 Ambassador.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    VW has at least demonstrated they can build a good EV, in the form of the e-Golf. But their claim to build a hybrid should be met with laughter – they’ve had several misfires with hybrids, but maybe that’s because their hybrids couldn’t compete against the TDIs for price and fuel economy.

    As for the Atlas, I think the interior looked very nice, and they’re aiming to make it very roomy. It might do OK, but it’s a crowded market.

    http://www.tflcar.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/2018-vw-atlas-interior-dash.jpg

  • avatar
    Whatnext

    Uh, whatever happened to the “new” Tiguan, that’s been on sale in Europe for a while now?

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