Early versions of Volkswagen's new midsize sedan, which is aimed directly at capturing American motorists, are undergoing test assembly at the automaker's Chattanooga plant.
The so-called "pre-series" work is an initial run-up to official production that's slated to begin in early 2011, officials said.
Frank Fischer, chief executive of VW's Chattanooga operations, said he personally plans to test drive the new sedan at a "top secret" overseas facility late this month.
"I'm really eager to drive it," Mr. Fischer said.
Stefan Jacoby, Volkswagen Group of America president, lauded the appearance of the sedan last week while in Chattanooga for the formal opening of the plant's training center.
"It looks perfect," he said about the yet-unnamed car specifically designed to appeal to U.S. motorists.
Mr. Fischer said that since Chattanooga's $1 billion plant remains under construction, the initial pre-series cars are partly hand assembled.
"Many things are done automatically," he added, especially in the body shop.
Mr. Fischer said the pre-series work is undertaken in part to help suppliers with their processes of making parts for the car, which officials have suggested is a little larger than a VW Passat.
The work also helps test the machinery that goes into plant, which officials said is on track for production to begin early next year.
Because the paint shop isn't up to operational speed yet, which is planned for this fall, the pre-series car bodies are shipped to VW facilities in Mexico. There, the shells are painted and sent back to Chattanooga, officials said.
The automaker has hired about 750 people in Chattanooga so far and expects to have 1,300 on board by the end of the year.
"We still have a lot of work to do in the (production) halls," Mr. Fischer said.
He said he's excited as the plant and car both start to emerge from plans into reality.
"It's exciting for myself. I really love the car. I think it's making everybody on the team proud. It's here in Chattanooga."
Volkswagen plans to hire 2,000 workers making the new auto. The plant is slated to produce 150,000 vehicles annually.
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