Boyd takes delivery of first new VW SUV in Chattanooga

Friday, May 19, 2017, Vol. 41, No. 20

CHATTANOOGA (AP) — Republican gubernatorial candidate Randy Boyd became the country's first customer to drive Volkswagen's new Atlas SUV off a dealer lot Thursday.

Boyd was the state's economic development commissioner when he put down his $5,000 deposit on the new model in 2015. It was a clear vote of confidence in Volkswagen during the early stages of the diesel emissions cheating scandal that raised concerns about whether the German automaker had a future in the United States. At the time, some state lawmakers questioned whether to proceed with incentives and grants aimed at persuading Volkswagen to build the new SUV at its plant in Tennessee.

Several state Republicans also worry about the United Auto Workers gaining a foothold at the plant, though Volkswagen has fought efforts by skilled-trades workers there to be represented by the union.

Boyd said he took a tour of the Chattanooga plant and became convinced by company officials that bringing the new SUV to the market remained a core part of Volkswagen's strategy to revive U.S. sales.

"As I walked through, I realized there were a lot of Tennesseans working in this factory that were feeling demoralized. They were feeling like people looked at them like they had somehow done something wrong," he said. "No Tennessean ever did anything wrong."

Boyd acknowledged the decision to order the first new SUV from Volkswagen before the company had even given the model its name was an "impulsive moment." But he said he hoped he could underscore his support for both the company and its workers by being first in line for the new vehicle.

Volkswagen's lone U.S. plant opened in 2011, and made only the midsized Passat sedan until the addition of the new seven-seat SUV.

The Atlas is key to Volkswagen's efforts to emerge from the emissions scandal and meet U.S. demand for new SUVs at a time when consumers are picking them over cars.

Several Republicans are expected to join the race to succeed term-limited Gov. Bill Haslam next year. Franklin businessman Bill Lee has already announced his bid. State Sen. Mark Green hasn't said whether he will return to the governor's race after withdrawing as President Donald Trump's nominee as army secretary. Other potential GOP candidates include U.S. Rep. Diane Black, state House Speaker Beth Harwell and state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris.

Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean is the lone Democratic candidate to announce so far, while state House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh is also considering a bid.

Boyd said when he ordered his new Volkswagen SUV, he had no real need for a new personal vehicle.

"I had no idea what I was going to do with it," he said. "Conveniently, now I'm running for governor, so this will actually be the new campaign car."