VW confirms plans to export Chattanooga-made Passat to Korea

VW confirms plans to export Chattanooga-made Passat to Korea

July 7th, 2011 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Train cars sit near a lot Wednesday at the Volkswagen plant. Passats will be loaded onto the train for transport.

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant, now producing more than 100 Passats daily, plans to sell the car in South Korea as well as in North America, the factory's chief executive confirmed Wednesday.

Frank Fischer, CEO of VW's Chattanooga operations, said the automaker's sales team determined South Korea "is a very good match" for the all-new Passat.

Volkswagen initially is targeting a modest 4,000-a-year sales goal for the Asian nation, Fischer said. Plans are to start those sales in 2012, he said. In addition to the U.S., VW has said the Passat also will be sold in Canada and Mexico.

Congress is looking at a summer vote on a South Korea trade agreement with the United States. It is seen as the most significant such U.S. accord since the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.

The agreement is expected to boost U.S. exports by $11 billion a year, according to reports.

Fischer said the Chattanooga plant's production team is aiming for a daily assembly rate of 460 Passats by year's end, and there's room to boost that number. The plant has capacity to make 150,000 vehicles a year.

"So far it has come along very well," the plant's CEO said about production. "We're very satisfied."

Fischer said the plant hit a production high of 140 units on Friday.

Don Jackson, the plant's president of manufacturing, said the production team is excited to finally be assembling cars. "They're also a bit impatient," he said. "When the line stops, it's 'OK, let's get it going. Let's build another car.'"

Second shift

Fischer said VW is working toward adding another shift at the plant.

Hans-Herbert Jagla, VW's executive vice president of human resources in Chattanooga, said each shift will have about 650 production workers. Jagla said almost 2,000 workers have been hired so far.

Fischer said the plant has produced about 560 cars for shipment to dealers across the country, with each to initially receive a couple of Passats for their purposes and to take orders from customers. Plans are to start on-lot sales in September, officials have said.

Fischer said about 300 Passats have been shipped to dealers so far with plans to have all the dealer cars out by the end of this month.

The plant chief said about 3,000 cars have been made at the plant so far, including test vehicles.

Fischer said about 8,000 people showed up for a VW employee family event last month.

He said it was "the first time they've been able to show off their work place. We saw a lot of happy and proud faces."