VW readying paint shop

Volkswagen is close to turning the key to start the most complex part of its Chattanooga assembly plant as the carmaker readies its state-of-the-art paint shop.

"In the middle of September, we will paint our first car," said Frank Fischer, chief executive of VW's Chattanooga operations.

The massive paint shop, on which construction began first because it's the plant's most complicated structure, is undergoing a deep cleaning to remove dust, Fischer said.

Don Jackson, VW's president of manufacturing in Chattanooga, said workers will start filling the system with liquids, paints and coatings.

"We must confirm all the different colors," he said.

Also, the paint shop robots soon will start operating, Jackson said.

"Robot teaching is going on now," he said.

Jackson said that because the paint shop isn't up and running yet, early trial vehicles made at the plant were shipped to VW's Pueblo, Mexico, facility for painting.

VW employees in the Chattanooga paint shop also were sent to Mexico to train, he said.

Officials said the Chattanooga paint shop is expected to be the most advanced in the world and hold an eco-friendly process.

The shop will boast green technology that will produce almost zero waste when changing paint colors, according to VW.

In addition, VW will use environmentally sensitive water-based paint, and it will utilize a two-step process rather than the typical three. The move will save energy but maintain high-quality standards, according to the automaker.

Additionally, the paint shop will use a dry filtration process rather than one that is water based. Instead of having a wet sludge, the byproduct will be a dry powder, officials said.

"It's a very exciting time for us," Jackson said.

VW officials said last year it was expanding the paint shop to service 1,000 vehicles a day. While the new plant is to assemble 150,000 vehicles a year, officials have said they could build a mirror image of the facility on adjacent land if needed.

VW is slated to start producing cars in the first quarter of 2011. The $1 billion plant will make a new midsize sedan aimed at American motorists.