As Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant readies to churn out future Passat models and possibly another vehicle, the automaker is ramping up a new training effort aimed at quality.
"This is a really big effort to design a car that's mechanically reliable and electronically reliable," said Hans-Herbert Jagla, executive vice president of human resources for VW in Chattanooga.
Called the Car Mechatronics Program, the initiative involves training technicians to be skilled in all aspects of the body, mechanical and electrical and electronic systems in VW vehicles.
"They'll be in the [production] line to get the processes to run smoothly to detect where we need optimization," Jagla added about the technicians.
Working with the Tennessee Technology Center and Chattanooga State Community College, plans are to enroll about a dozen students this fall.
In addition to classroom work, students also receive paid, on-the-job training inside the plant. Students may be eligible for financial aid for classwork, according to CSCC.
As VW tries to sell 1 million vehicles in the United States by 2018, quality is an area where the company is trying to improve.
At its Chattanooga plant, VW adopted a slogan -- "passion for detail," said Frank Fischer, chief executive for VW in Chattanooga.
Early on in the development of the redesigned Passat, he and other top brass instituted daily test drives of Passats around the factory to give production workers feedback about quality.
Mike Ricketts, the technology center's dean, said the aim is to fill the slots in the plant with local people.
The new nine-semester, three-year program is a complement to the Automotive Mechatronics Program VW began earlier that is aimed at helping keep the plant systems running smoothly, he said in a statement.
After completing the Car Mechtronics Program, the students aren't guaranteed a job at VW but will have a leg up, Jagla said. They'll also have skills to work at VW dealerships, according to the automaker.
"We have to put quality cars out if we're going to be successful," Jagla said.
The technicians will be valued as the automaker changes Passat models and potentially introduces new vehicles to be produced at the plant, according to VW. Officials have suggested that a new sport utility vehicle to better compete head to head with the Ford Explorer could work in the U.S.
According to VW, plans are to add 12 new people to the program each year.
Graduates of the program who want to pursue an associate of applied science degree in engineering technology will receive 30 credit hours of advanced placement toward a 60-hour degree program, according to CSCC.
Jagla said VW also is considering a third so-called apprenticeship program involving tool and die makers.