Volkswagen employees celebrate the early success of the Passat

Volkswagen employees celebrate the early success of the Passat

November 19th, 2011 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Frank Fischer, CEO of the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant, reveals the Motor Trend Car of the Year award to over 1,000 employees Friday during a meeting at the Volkswagen conference center. Editor-in-chief of Motor Trend Angus MacKenzie praised the efficiency and design of the Volkswagen Passat.

Photo by Jenna Walker/Times Free Press.

While Volkswagen workers rallied Friday at the carmaker's Chattanooga plant to mark the Passat's Motor Trend Car of the Year win, officials said they're trying to garner a second vehicle.

"We're working hard in getting a second model into the plant," said Frank Fischer, chief executive of VW's Chattanooga operations.

Amid whoops, hollers and applause, about 1,000 VW employees celebrated the early success of the Passat.

When the wraps came off the Motor Trend magazine trophy, the factory's first shift raised the roof of the Chattanooga plant's conference center.

"The Passat is really creating some momentum in the market," Fischer said.

At the same time, officials said they're looking at both human and equipment needs required to produce another vehicle.

SUV FOCUS OF REPORT

On Thursday, the Financial Times Deutschland reported that VW's top management in Germany is weighing production of a sport utility vehicle in Chattanooga.

Fischer told reporters in a briefing that there has been no decision. But within the plant's same basic structure, the factory could bolster production by 100,000 to 250,000 vehicles a year with alterations, the CEO said.

"In the body shop, we'd have to make a number of changes," he said. "In the paint shop, we'd have to add a second line."

SALES HIGHER

Currently, Fischer said, Passat sales are exceeding expectations "by quite a high number." In October, the first full month the Passat has been on dealer lots, sales of the all-new midsize sedan totaled about 5,000 of the 28,000 total cars VW sold nationally.

Fischer said the Passat's figures also spur dealers to invest in marketing the vehicle.

Angus MacKenzie, Motor Trend's editor-in-chief, told the group of employees that winning the award is "a remarkable achievement" by a new factory.

"Building a car is an extremely complicated process," he said. "This award is your award."

Employee James Teague said he isn't surprised about Passat's win.

"We know what we're doing," he said.

Another employee, Sabrina Koerner, said she feels a part of the car's production effort.

"I think it's great," she said about the award.

A key VW supplier was cited Friday for continuing to work to provide carpet for the Passat when flooding hit its Pennsylvania plant in September.

Dan Dugan, an Autoneum vice president, said VW helped bring its production back to life in the aftermath of the flood by helping re-establish its supply chain.

"We were able to quickly resume production back into Chattanooga," he said.

Tom Loafman, Volkswagen Group of America's director of purchasing, said Chattanooga plant production could have been shut down for weeks without the carpeting.

Another supplier, Faurecia North America, lauded the Passat's win.

"The Passat is part of one of the most competitive segments on the market," said Mike Heneka, the company's president.

Faurecia North America provides the exhaust system for the car in Chattanooga at an adjacent supplier park and is slated to employ 35 workers when it reaches full production. Heneka said it also provides seat frames, the instrument panel and front-end carrier for the Passat from other locations.

Should VW expand production in Chattanooga, he said, Faurecia "welcomes any opportunity to expand its relationship with Volkswagen."