Luke Repass works Tuesday on a 2012 Passat after opening ceremonies for the $1 billion Volkswagen plant. Staff Photo by Angela Lewis/Chattanooga Times Free Press
PATH TO PRODUCTION
* May 2008 - Enterprise South land is cleared to entice Volkswagen to consider Chattanooga site
* July 15, 2008 - Volkswagen picks Chattanooga for its U.S. assembly plant from among 400 competing cities.
* Feb. 3, 2009 - Construction begins on the $1 billion plant
* May 14, 2009 - First wall erected at VW plant
* Feb. 14, 2010 - First robots installed
* June 17, 2010 - First car assembled for test drives
* Sept. 30, 2010 - VW supplier park is opened in adjacent buildings
* January 2011 - Volkswagen debuts Passat at Detroit Motor Show
* April 18, 2011 - First customer car rolls off the line
* May 24, 2011 - Grand opening of plant
Source: Volkswagen of America
BY THE NUMBERS
* 1,700 - Number of employees hired so far toward goal of at least 2,000
* 1,016 - Number of Passat cars assembled so far
* 150,000 - Initial annual vehicle production capacity of plant
* $1 billion - Investment in Volkswagen assembly plant
* 2.5 million - Square feet of footprint by the plant and related supplier park and facilities.
Source: Volkswagen of America
Three years after workers began clearing a forest in an abandoned munitions plant, the Chattanooga site is home to America’s newest automotive plant, which officials said Tuesday is key to Volkswagen’s goal of global leadership.
Volkswagen’s top brass from Germany on Tuesday heralded the $1 billion transformation of the abandoned TNT site, which was used to make munitions to fight the Germans in World War II.
“Our Chattanooga factory is state of the art and is among the world’s most efficient and cleanest plants in the world,” said Michael Macht, Volkswagen’s board member in charge of production.
VW’s 1,400-acre assembly plant in Enterprise South industrial park is capable of making 150,000 vehicles a year and already has produced more than 1,000 of its 2012 Passat cars.
Jonathan Browning, president of Volkswagen of America, said VW decided to return to U.S. vehicle assembly to help build its presence in the world’s richest market. Volkswagen operates 62 plants around the world but abandoned its only previous U.S. plant — a former Chrysler facility near Westmoreland, Pa. — in 1988.
“The Chattanooga plant represents a significant commitment toward our U.S. growth strategy,” Browning said, noting VW wants to sell at least a million VW and Audi brand cars a year in North America by 2018.
The site preparation for the new VW plant began three years ago with some gutsy land clearance by local officials even before VW picked Chattanooga as a production site.
When site selectors said they had a hard time envisioning the car plant on the still wooded, rolling hills near Interstate 75 in Ooltewah, former Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey and Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield directed public works crews to begin clearing the site. The city even used its wireless police camera to show VW officials in Germany via the Internet how site work was progressing.
State and local officials also offered a $577 million incentive package, and by mid-July 2008, Volkswagen decided to locate its plant in Chattanooga.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., a former Chattanooga mayor whose Riverview home was used to broker the deal with VW, said Tuesday’s grand opening of the plant was the consummation of a decade-long effort to reclaim the former Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant for a car plant.
“This is a testament to a city that held to its vision,” Corker said.
Another 1,200 acres is being reserved for Volkswagen should the carmaker choose to build another plant. But for now, officials said VW is focused upon successfully building the Passat in Chattanooga before considering other vehicle lines.
Volkswagen Chief Executive Officer Martin Winterkorn said the decision to locate in Chattanooga proved to be the right one even as construction proceeded during the worst recession in 80 years. The auto market is now improving as Volkswagen prepares to begin selling the new Passat by late summer.
“Volkswagen is at home in America like never before as a company, as an employer and as a neighbor and friend,” Winterkorn said to the applause of more than 1,000 plant employees and local supporters during Tuesday’s plant grand opening.