Corker optimistic on Volkswagen's expansion of Chattanooga plant

Corker optimistic on Volkswagen's expansion of Chattanooga plant

February 23rd, 2013 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Volkswagen builds vehicles in Hamilton County.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

Bob Corker

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

An opportunity exists to double the size of Chattanooga's Volkswagen plant and for the city and state to gain even more German business generally, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said Friday.

"German business people are looking to build products in the U.S. that they'll sell in Europe," the Tennessee Republican said.

In an hourlong talk with about 150 business people and others, Corker said Volkswagen has gained market share in the U.S. and the company is looking at selling more products in America.

Local Volkswagen officials have said they're trying to get a proposed new sport utility vehicle assembled in Chattanooga.

Corker said there hasn't been any decision made on new production, but he thinks VW eventually will utilize the entire Enterprise South industrial park site it controls.

"I know at some point, whether it's the next product they announce or the one after, I believe with every cell of my body that the rest of the facility will be utilized," he said.

He said he has had extensive talks with VW officials in Chattanooga, nationally and internationally.

"I've gotten to know [VW chief] Dr. Winterkorn," Corker said. "There's a lot of great synergy."

At the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce meeting, Corker echoed sentiments expressed this week by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who lauded plans of trade talks between America and the European Union.

Corker noted that if VW ships an engine from Europe to the U.S, there's a tariff on it.

VW officials say that new trade pacts would make the Chattanooga plant more competitive within the automaker's group. That's helpful as the plant vies for production with VW facilities in Mexico, for example.

Alexander said that the auto and transportation sectors are the largest part of Tennessee's exports, about $6 billion annually.

"The prospect of opening up the European market to more manufactured goods from Tennessee is good for working families in the Chattanooga area," he said.

Also, Corker said German business people have expressed worries about that country's plan to mothball its nuclear power plants, which they fear will drive up energy costs.

That will give Tennessee and Chattanooga a chance to add more manufacturing jobs, he said.

"There's a tremendous opportunity," he said.