Volkswagen to expand Chattanooga test track for SUV

Volkswagen to expand Chattanooga test track for SUV

August 30th, 2016 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Staff file photo by Jake Daniels / A Passat sedan goes around part of the test track at VW's Chattanooga plant. VW has plans to expand the track so it can test the new SUVs which the company plans to start assembling later this year.

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.

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The city’s Industrial Development Board is slated to take up Volkswagen’s test track expansion project within the next several weeks.

Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant is expanding its test track, including the addition of a small figure-eight course, so the carmaker can evaluate its new sport utility vehicle's all-wheel drive features.

The work to the track also calls for creation of a brake-test hill along an inspection pit shelter and lighting, according to blueprints of the project.

"We are extending the existing rattle track, which is used to verify quality standards on completed vehicles, to accommodate testing needs for the new midsize SUV," said plant spokesman Scott Wilson.

The track additions to test the SUV's all-wheel-drive features haven't been needed for the front-wheel-drive Passat sedan that has been under production at the plant, he said.

The test track is located next to the Enterprise South industrial park plant, near where the company parks most of its vehicles awaiting shipment to dealers.

Wilson also said the test track expansion isn't linked with VW's new engineering and planning center near the factory, where company officials eventually hope to centralize those functions in North America.

Assembly of the seven-seat SUV is to start later this year at the plant, with dealers to begin selling the vehicle early in 2017, officials have said. The vehicle is seen as key for VW to jump-start growth in United States sales after the diesel emissions scandal.

The cost of the test track additions aren't known. VW wouldn't provide estimates because the project was under bid recently.

Bill Payne, city engineer, said the project will be paid for through city and Hamilton County incentives approved earlier when the $900 million SUV expansion project was sought. He, too, declined to give out an estimate until the project comes up before the city's Industrial Development Board soon.

"That's part of the evaluation process," Payne said.

The city and county are putting in $26.25 million each in incentive money, while the state of Tennessee is adding about $177.8 million in grants and training assistance, for the entire SUV expansion initiative.

VW has pledged to hire 2,000 more employees at the plant. Aerotek, a contract staffing company hiring for the automaker, has said it plans to bring on about 700 more employees by year's end. That's in addition to the approximately 2,400 who already assemble the Passat.

In addition to the midsize SUV based on VW's CrossBlue concept, the company has talked about bringing more of the popular vehicles to the U.S. market.

Hinrich Woebcken, the head of VW's U.S. unit, has said the company also plans to build electric vehicles in North America by 2020, potentially at its Chattanooga plant.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.