U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said Monday that a decision on where Volkswagen will build a new sport utility vehicle is due “in the very near future.”
“I’m not going to put a time frame, but it’s moving in the right direction,” the Tennessee Republican said on VW’s pending decision on whether to add a second line of production at the auto manufacturer’s Chattanooga plant.
Tennessee had offered VW officials, who are also considering a SUV line in Mexico, a $300 million incentive package to put the vehicle in Chattanooga. But Gov. Bill Haslam withdrew the offer as workers prepared to vote in February on unionization at the plant.
Plant workers rejected unionization efforts, sparking an appeal by the United Auto Workers, who accused Haslam, Corker and fellow Republicans of poisoning the waters.
Corker claimed in the midst of the union vote that he was assured that should the workers vote against the UAW, VW would announce in the coming weeks that it will manufacture its SUV in Chattanooga.
Last week, Haslam told reporters there had been virtually no conversation with VW since the failed union vote and a later appeal by the UAW, which it dropped three weeks ago.
“We’ve had conversations about trying to set up a meeting,” the governor told reporters last week. “But we haven’t had any meetings.”
Corker said on Monday that “I think if you had that conversation with the governor today he’d give you a different response. Again, the election was just certified within the last few weeks and you know things are moving in the direction that we thought they would.”
Asked if Chattanooga is now a shoo-in for the plant, Corker said, “Well, I’m saying we had a long pause, which was unfortunate, and it takes a while to sort of get the gears back moving again.
“But I have no indication that things are different than we thought prior to the election. It does take a while to sort of get everybody moving together and moving ahead. But again, there’s more happening than meets the eye,” Corker said.
There was no immediate response from a Haslam spokesman.
Corker, who spoke in Nashville following a news conference on a Senate bill that seeks to boost royalty payments to song writers, said there was never an indication VW would decide the location decision Monday, when the company’s supervisory board met in Germany for the first time since the appeal was pulled.
Jesse Toprak, chief analyst for Cars.com, said Monday he thinks Chattanooga is the place where the SUV will be assembled.
“It makes sense,” he said. “From all perspectives, that would be the right decision for VW.”
Toprak also said VW needs the new seven-seat SUV in the United States “the sooner, the better.”
“It needs some sales momentum in the U.S. market,” he said.
On Monday, the Volkswagen brand set a new global sales record for the first four months of the year, selling almost 2 million vehicles despite a downturn in the U.S.
VW delivered 1.99 million vehicles worldwide in the four-month period, up 4.6 percent over the same period last year. But in the U.S., the automaker sold 118,200 vehicles through April, down 10.4 percent.
Toprak said the SUV market in the U.S. is “a good segment to be in. It’s a profitable segment, too. I think it will be a big chance to show what VW can do uniquely for the U.S.”
VW sells two SUVs in the U.S., but both are considered expensive relative to their competitors and are aging. The company doesn’t make a seven-seat SUV, which could compete directly with the Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander and the Honda Pilot.
VW has called Chattanooga the front-runner to land the SUV, a move that could produce hundreds of millions of dollars in investment and potentially about 1,000 new jobs at the 2,700-worker factory.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.
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 ...
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...