VW wants to build on mega platform design to become world's top automaker

VW wants to build on mega platform design to become world's top automaker

March 19th, 2013 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

A worker wraps a protective liner around a Volkswagen Tiguan at quality control portion of the production line at the Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg, Germany.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

CHATTANOOGANS THANK VW

A delegation of more than three dozen Chattanooga businesses toured the VW plant here Monday and met with VW and Wolfsburg city officials. The trip is the biggest such international trip ever by the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce and neighboring Chambers in Dalton, Ga., and Cleveland, Tenn.

"We want to thank Volkswagen for what they have done for Chattanooga," Chamber President Ron Harr told VW and Wolfsburg leaders Monday night.

Wolfsburg is one of six sister cities of Chattanooga. As headquarters of Volkswagen and home of its biggest plants, VW employs more than 54,000 employees here. The plant produces more than 3,800 Golf, Touran and Tiguan cars a day. Since its start in 1938, has rolled off more than 40 million vehicles from its assembly line.

By comparison, Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant employs nearly 3,200 employees and has produced about 180,000 Passat cars.

But Chattanooga could gain other models in the future. VW Sales Chief Christian Kingler told The Detroit News last week that there might be four or five models developed specifically for U.S. customers. VW has set a goal of selling at least 1 million vehicles a year in the United States by 2018.

"After the success of the U.S. version of the Passat, the goal is to establish ourselves in another core market," Winterkorn said here last week.

WOLFSBURG, Germany - Every 58 seconds, two laser-guided robots place the front and rear windows in place on one of Volkswagen's newest versions of its top-selling Golf cars.

The new robots, made in both Germany and Japan, are among nearly 1,000 computerized assembly machines VW has added over the past year to the world's biggest car plant here. The automated assembly techniques, combined with a new modular assembly process, are part of Volkswagen's ongoing strategy to reduce its production costs and help the German carmaker surpass Toyota and General Motors as the biggest car company in the world within the next decade.

Volkswagen uses more than 5,500 robots in its massive production facilities here, which span nearly 2.5 square miles and produce three different models and parts of dozens more.

VW's new mega platform strategy, known as Modularer Querbaukasten or MQB Platform, is designed to cut development and manufacturing costs of differing car models. By sharing the same design and production capabilities over a number of products, VW officials expect the new approach could pare the development and production costs by up to 20 percent on new models, which could include some in Chattanooga.

Like assembling Lego pieces to make many different toys, MQB offers the potential of using more vehicle parts in different models.

Volkswagen is investing $70 billion in the new growth and design strategy as it prepares to add 10 more plants around the world -- seven in China alone.

In 2012, VW earned a record operating profit of 11.5 billion euros, or $15 billion. Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn warned during the annual meeting last week that auto sales could continue to be hurt by the weak European economy.

Despite sluggish sales on its home turf here in Europe, however, U.S. sales of Volkswagen passenger cars jumped last year by 35.1 percent, aided by the Chattanooga-made Passat introduced two years ago.

During a plant meeting and Monday night dinner with a Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce group, VW officials praised their 2008 decision to locate the company's only U.S. assembly plant in Chattanooga.

"We're very happy that we have a very great relationship with Chattanooga," said Dr. Christoff Spathelft, a Volkswagen executive who led the committee that picked Chattanooga for its $1 billion plant. "In 2008, I had a feeling that these were the right people and they were committed and want us there and I have to say after five years I still feel that way."

Volkswagen officials are studying whether to possibly expand the Chattanooga plant to make a new sport utility vehicle, or crossover, known as CrossBlue. Volkswagen introduced a concept version of the CrossBlue at the Detroit Auto Show in January.

Ralph Jakobs, the former head of research and development in Chattanooga who is helping develop the CrossBlue and two other new models, said the company has yet to officially decide where, or even if, the CrossBlue will be built.

"We hope to let you know something maybe in a few months," Jakobs said.

A key to the new CrossBlue and other new products Volkswagen is developing is the mega platform and robotic production processes that can help both cut costs and improve quality. VW introduced its MQB approach a year ago with its Audi A3 and launched MQB here with its Golf 7 car last August.

Morgan Stanley analyst Stuart Pearson estimates that VW's strategy will allow the car maker to produce an average of five models per common platform, along with assorted "kits" of parts. By comparison, Toyota and GM average less than 3.5 models per platform.

The Associated Press contributed to this report