Volkswagen's Atlas Strategy: Plug the Hole Now, Worry About Choice Later

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
volkswagen s atlas strategy plug the hole now worry about choice later

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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  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Nov 12, 2016

    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.

  • Whatnext Whatnext on Nov 13, 2016

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

    • Brettc Brettc on Nov 14, 2016

      It's coming to North America in spring 2017 I think, in LWB only format. We'll likely never see a Tiguan TDI either.

  • Nrd515 I don't really see the point of annual inspections, especially when the car is under 3 years (warranty) old. Inspections should be safety related, ONLY, none of the nonsensical CA ARB rules that end up being something like, "Your air intake doesn't have an ARB sticker on it, so you have to remove it and buy one just like it that does have the ARB sticker on it!". If the car or whatever isn't puking smoke out of it, and it doesn't make your eyes water, like an old Chevy Bel-Air I was behind on Wed did, it's fine. I was stuck in traffic behind that old car, and wow, the gasoline smell was super potent. It was in nice shape, but man, it was choking me. I was amused by the 80 something old guy driving it, he even had a hat with a feather in it, THE sign of someone you don't want to be driving anywhere near you.
  • Lou_BC "15mpg EPA" The 2023 ZR2 Colorado is supposed to be 16 mpg
  • ToolGuy "The more aerodynamic, organic shape of the Mark VIII meant ride height was slightly lower than before at 53.6 inches, over 54.2” for the Mark VII."• I am not sure that ride height means what you think it means.Elaboration: There is some possible disagreement about what "ride height" refers to. Some say ground clearance, some say H point (without calling it that), some say something else. But none of those people would use a number of over 4 feet for a stock Mark anything.Then you go on to use it correctly ("A notable advancement in the Mark VIII’s suspension was programming to lower the ride height slightly at high speeds, which assisted fuel economy via improved aerodynamics.") so what do I know. Plus, I ended a sentence with a preposition. 🙂
  • ToolGuy The dealer knows best. 🙂
  • ToolGuy Cool.