Volkswagen, seeking to recover from diesel emissions violations, is betting that a jumbo-sized crossover will persuade more U.S. consumers to give it another chance -- now that the seven-seater has a name they can pronounce: Atlas.
The name initially proposed by company bosses in Wolfsburg, Germany, -- the Teramont -- had landed with a thud when it was run by U.S. dealers months ago. Customers already had to grapple with two crossovers with unusual names, the Touareg and Tiguan.
“It was back in March when we sat together and we openly discussed with a group of dealers, ‘Do you like that name?”’ Hinrich Woebcken, CEO for the brand’s new North America region, said at an industry conference this week in Los Angeles. “And they all said ‘Ah, frankly …”’
So it became the Atlas, a vehicle that was revealed last month and will be on display at the Los Angeles Auto Show for the next week and a half. The crossover was rolled out Thursday at the show with NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar riding shotgun and former Los Angeles Lakers teammate James Worthy also on board.
The willingness of VW headquarters to let executives in America make changes based on feedback from dealers represents a profound change, which Woebcken called “exciting.” The company is working to regain the trust of U.S. consumers and regulators after it admitted that 11 million of its diesel cars worldwide illegally evaded emissions tests. VW is rolling out new models as it tries to halt a U.S. sales decline that reached its 12th straight month in October.
Alan Brown, head of VW’s U.S. dealer council, applauded the “unprecedented autonomy” that local executives now have -- and are using well under Woebcken.
“He’s looking for every opportunity to make sure that there is no miscue with the car, and the name was a big part of that,” Brown said Thursday. “This car is about our resurgence in the U.S. -- it’s not about anything else. It’s about getting back on track.”
Woebcken said that “rebuilding trust with our U.S. customers, dealers and employees has been our No. 1 priority this past year, and I’m happy that we are on track to do that.”
The crossover will be made in Chattanooga, Tenn., along with the Passat sedan. It will be the largest vehicle in its class, Woebcken said. And with a slim A-pillar around the windshield, it will have segment-leading visibility, he said.
The company has committed to introducing more electric models in the coming years and aims to sell as many as 3 million by 2025. On Thursday in Los Angeles, it showed a new e-Golf electric car with about 50 percent more range and 90 percent more horsepower.