In his zeal to attract Volkswagen to Chattanooga, Mayor Ron Littlefield promised the CEO of VW in America that, if the German carmaker built a plant here, he would buy his wife one of the locally built vehicles.
“That was no joke, although I know my wife is laughing and smiling,” Mr. Littlefield said Monday.
U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, the Chattanooga Republican who also was involved in the VW recruitment campaign, isn’t even waiting for the vehicles to be assembled here before showing his personal support for VW.
“As soon as I get home in August, which is the traditional Congressional recess, I’m going to go out and attempt to trade cars and drive a Volkswagen around East Tennessee in the future months,” said Rep. Wamp.
He said he already has talked with folks at Village Volkswagen-Audi of Chattanooga.
Already, many Chattanoogans are adopting the German automaker as their own.
Dale Smith, general manager at Village Volkswagen-Audi, said last week was the busiest for the local VW dealership “in a long, long time.
“People want to support the local economy and buy products made by their friends and neighbors,” he said.
Mr. Smith said he saw a similar uptick in sales in the 1980s when he was selling Saturn cars after General Motors built its Saturn plant in Middle Tennessee. Bill Purcell, a former House majority leader and Nashville mayor, was among those who began driving a Saturn after the GM plant located in Spring Hill.
Volkswagen plans to begin assembling a new mid-size sedan in Chattanooga by 2011 and the company, already the leading diesel manufacturer in Europe, wants to increase its diesel sales in the States.
“I’m a true believer and a faithful supporter of Volkswagen America, and I’m going to try to find one that gets pretty good gas mileage and also try to learn where all the diesel stations are in Chattanooga,” Rep. Wamp said.
Unlike Alabama’s recruitment of the German-based Mercedes-Benz in 1993, Tennessee didn’t promise to make any bulk purchases of VW vehicles made in Tennessee. But during last week’s announcement of Volkswagen’s plans to build a $1 billion plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee Economic Development Commissioner Matt Kisber urged Tennesseans to support the city’s newest corporate resident.
VW has set an ambitious goal of tripling its vehicle sales in the United States and “the people of Tennessee are going to do their level best to help you achieve that goal,” Mr. Kisber told VW officials.
Mayor Littlefield said the city will try to include Volkswagen in more of its vehicle purchasing requests, just as it does with other local manufacturers.
VW’s site selection team, which returns to Chattanooga today and Wednesday, will be welcomed back to the Scenic City with nearly 250 banners around downtown proclaiming “Wilkommen! VW.”
The banners are sponsored jointly by the city of Chattanooga and the Chattanooga Times Free Press and will be on downtown street poles through Friday, according to the Chattanooga Downtown Partnership.
“We’re still smiling over last week’s announcement that VW is coming to Chattanooga, and the banners are just our way of introducing our new corporate citizens to the rich tradition of Southern hospitality,” Mr. Littlefield said.