published Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

First Volkswagen 2012 Passat officially rolls out

Frank Fischer, CEO of Volkswagen in Chattanooga, addresses his employees Monday at the reveal of the first customer car produced by the Chattanooga factory. The car is a Night Blue Metallic Passat SEL.
Staff Photo by Allison Carter/Chattanooga Times Free Press
Frank Fischer, CEO of Volkswagen in Chattanooga, addresses his employees Monday at the reveal of the first customer car produced by the Chattanooga factory. The car is a Night Blue Metallic Passat SEL. Staff Photo by Allison Carter/Chattanooga Times Free Press

Volkswagen worker Joey Gilliland drove the first customer car made in Chattanooga out of the automaker’s plant Monday as the company sets its sights on churning out about 500 Passats a day.

“We have come a long way ... but there’s also still a lot of work,” said Frank Fischer, the plant’s chief executive.

He and more than 1,600 employees cheered the arrival of the first of 9,000 all-new Passats that VW plans to build and stockpile in coming months for the kickoff of sales in late summer.

Gilliland, a Hixson resident who works in quality assurance at the $1 billion plant, navigated a night-blue metallic Passat SEL with 18-inch wheels onto a small platform. He drove four other employees as passengers, each from other key parts of the factory.

Fischer said the first customer car won’t be sold but will stay at the new plant, likely on display.

OPENING SET

VW officially will mark the opening of its only U.S. assembly plant on May 24.

Future vehicles will be shipped to dealers across North America as VW tries to make inroads in the key midsize sedan segment against the likes of Toyota’s Camry, Honda’s Accord and Ford’s Fusion.

Hans-Herbert Jagla, the plant’s executive vice president of human resources, cited the plant workers’ “passion for detail.”

“We are feeling really confident about our team members,” he said. “They’re striving for perfection.”

Don Jackson, president of manufacturing in Chattanooga, mentioned the skills that plant workers have learned, though there’s still room for improvement.

“We’re still hiring people,” he said. “We’re still developing people. What’s good enough today is not good enough for tomorrow.”

winterkorn visit

However, Fischer said the new Passat’s quality was examined personally last week by VW Chief Executive Officer Martin Winterkorn and other key officials during a visit to the plant.

“They checked the quality of the car and gave us very positive feedback,” he said.

VW has produced hundreds of test vehicles over the past several months leading up to Monday. Officials said they’ll continue to drive the cars for endurance and quality purposes.

At the ceremony, Signal Mountain High School’s marching band played nearby, the blue- and white-shirted VW workers clapped and shouted and the German automaker hit a milestone that began almost three years ago.

That’s when Hamilton County and city officials gave the go-ahead for clearing part of the Enterprise South industrial park site that was pitched to the automaker. But the land was so densely forested, VW site selectors complained it was too hard to properly see.

Within a day, bulldozers and local government workers started taking down trees and brush, and VW officially picked Chattanooga for the 2 million-square-foot assembly plant about two months later over sites in Alabama and Michigan.

VW never looked back, pushing ahead during the Great Recession with construction on the new plant that’s expected to employ between 2,000 and 2,500 workers and make 150,000 vehicles a year.

Fischer said plans are to keep rolling out new Passats “very smoothly, very gradually” until it can hit the 500-a-day mark in the second half of the year.

“There’s still lots of training we have to accomplish,” Fischer said.

Gilliland, who has worked for VW for a little more than a year and test drives the vehicles, said the new Passat “drove really well ... very nice.”

“I was inspecting some of the first cars that came out. I’ve seen how it’s come along from the beginning. It’s nice to see all the kinks worked out,” he said.

The other workers who rode in the first car were Jessica Davis, assembly shop; Carlton Lowe, body shop; Sha’rone Jones, paint shop; and Lisa Knight, of the support area.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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mrredskin said...

was this a spy photo?

April 19, 2011 at 10:53 a.m.
Abe said...

When you write, "See Detroit?" No, I don't see Detroit. Do you?

Perhaps you mean to write, "See, Detroit?"

It's not that hard, that English language.

April 19, 2011 at 11:55 a.m.
chioK_V said...

@Libertarians4Freedom said... THREATENED WITH DEATH FOR NOT WEARING A VEIL. http://libertarians4freedom.blogspot.com/2011/04/should-you-wear-veil-if-youre-not.html


People in America get arrested all the time for wearing saggy baggy pants. Is this any different?

April 19, 2011 at 12:26 p.m.
mrredskin said...

and that has WHAT to do with a VW article?!?

April 19, 2011 at 2:38 p.m.
kellyvanrijn said...

I heard that all new VWs, including the redesigned Jetta and Passat, come with free standard GPS navigation so the cars can find their way back to the dealers' service bays...

April 20, 2011 at 7:44 p.m.
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