The Chattanooga Volkswagen plant's new leader faces a trunk-load of issues, ranging from the union election appeal to the possible startup of production of a sport utility vehicle.
Christian Koch, a managing director at Volkswagen's operations in Saxony, Germany, was tapped Thursday as the new chief executive for the Chattanooga plant.
Koch will replace Frank Fischer, who came to Chattanooga nearly six years ago to build the $1 billion factory. Fischer is becoming the new plant manager at VW's Emden, Germany, facility where the European Passat is assembled.
Koch, 50, joined Volkswagen in 1990. Prior to his current German post, he served for nearly a decade in China, VW's fastest-growing market. From 2005 to 2007, he was general manager at Shanghai Volkswagen Powertrain Co. Ltd. in China.
He also was an executive vice president for production, logistics and technical coordination at Volkswagen Group China in Beijing. Between 2010 and 2013 he oversaw the building of a new car factory in the FAW-Volkswagen Chengdu Branch in China as its president, according to VW.
Jesse Toprak, chief analyst for Cars.com, said VW is a major car company and able to juggle multiple issues in the U.S.
"It can plan product and deal with plant issues at the same time," he said.
He said the end game for VW is selling more product to U.S. customers, most of whom don't care who's running the plant.
"The focus ought to be on trying to figure out what consumers want from VW," he said.
Koch comes to Chattanooga and a hourly production workforce that's divided on the question of aligning with the United Auto Workers. Last month, workers voted 53 percent to 47 percent against recognizing the UAW.
The union has appealed the election to the National Labor Relations Board, saying that outside groups and Tennessee political leaders unfairly intervened. A hearing before an NLRB administrative law judge is set for April 21 in Chattanooga.
At the same time, VW is expected to be close to giving a green light to producing a new SUV in Chattanooga. The long-awaited vehicle would likely spur hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment and hundreds of jobs. The plant now produces only the Passat midsize sedan.
Fischer is credited with starting the Chattanooga factory on time, and overseeing production of a new vehicle that won Motor Trend Car of the Year honors. He also managed the installation of Tennessee's largest solar farm adjacent to the factory.
VW's Emden plant employs about 8,600 people, three times that of Chattanooga's. The facility also produces up to 1,200 vehicles a day.
Koch will work with another new face in America as the company tries to regain sales momentum in the region. Volkswagen of America chief Michael Horn came on board at the beginning of this year at the company that acts as the sales and marketing arm for VW in the U.S.
Contact Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6318.