Volkswagen is counting on the help of Academy Award nominee Paul Giamatti and actor Kieran Culkin as it starts the rollout of its new Atlas Cross Sport line. The two actors star in a three-part short film series, “The Accountant,” which helps introduce the new sport-utility vehicle and its tagline, “Excess Where it Matters.”
The Cross Sport is the new, two-row version of the big Atlas SUV launched in late 2016. It joins a rapidly expanding line-up of crossovers that, collectively, have helped rebuild the Volkswagen brand after years of decline in the U.S. market.
Physically one of the biggest products in its segment, but carrying a starting price of just $30,545, the short film series focuses on what buyers can expect for their money. “Excess in itself isn’t wrong, but excess for the sake of showing off is,” said Saad Chehab, senior vice president, Volkswagen brand marketing. “Americans shouldn’t have to overextend themselves to drive a quality vehicle that garners celebrity style attention and respect.”
After reaching a peak back in the 1960s, Volkswagen spent the better part of a half-century struggling in the U.S. At one point, in the early 1980s, annual sales slipped to barely 12,000, leading the automaker to question whether it was time to pull out of the market. It decided to stick it out but continued struggling until relatively recently.
The turnaround began with the introduction of its first SUV, the Touareg and, then, the smaller and more affordable Tiguan. But things really took off with the addition of the Atlas for the 2017 model-year. Though officially a midsize model, it offer nearly full-size interior space and three-row seating and quickly gained traction as the U.S. SUV market surged overall.
Last year, Atlas sales surged 39%, to 81,508, noted Serban Boldea, the director of product marketing and strategy for Volkswagen of America, during a recent presentation. Equally significant, it helped drive up the average transaction price for VW products in the U.S. by about $4,000.
Together with the recently updated Tiguan, VW’s SUV line-up accounted for 53% of its US. Sales last year. That was slightly ahead of the American market as a whole, where utility vehicles made up 52% of 2019 demand.
Boldea said the automaker is confident the slightly shorter, two-row Atlas Cross Sport won’t cannibalize demand for the bigger model, suggesting “We feel Cross Sport will come in and talk to a different consumer.”
While the two Atlas variants boast the same 117.3-inch wheelbase, the Cross Sport is about 12 inches shorter overall, at 195.5 inches. It also comes in 2.3 inches lower, at 67.8 inches, giving it a somewhat more sporty appearance. Meanwhile, the removal of the third row translates into what Boldea described as “an insane amount of cargo room.”
The Atlas Cross Sport will be offered with two powertrain options, a 235-horsepower turbo-four, and a 3.6-liter naturally aspirated V-6. The automaker meanwhile, is trying to belie its traditional image as the high-cost option with a low base price countering more lavish touches like all-LED lighting. There are plenty of options and more luxurious packages, however, that can drive the price up to around $50,000 for the well-equipped Atlas Cross Sport R-Line model.
The success of the existing crossover fleet has encouraged VW planners and Boldea said the Cross Sport will “not be the last of our SUVs. We have some more coming.”
That includes one model that will slot in under the current Tiguan, he hinted during an interview following a drive of the new Cross Sport.
VW also plans to launch an all-electric crossover, to be called the ID.4, that will become its first long-range battery-powered model targeting the U.S. market. It will reach American showrooms late this year or early in 2021. Initially, the ID.4 will be imported from Germany but, once VW completes an $800 million expansion of its Chattanooga, Tennessee assembly plant, production of the electric SUV will switch to there.
The U.S. plant will have capacity for a second battery-electric vehicle, Volkswagen officials have confirmed. While they have yet to reveal what the additional model will be, industry observers say there’s a good chance it will be a crossover, as well.