Smartphone on wheels: Volkswagen's electric vehicles to require new training at Chattanooga plant

Staff photo by Tim Barber Ilker Subasi, the Volkswagen Academy's head of training at the VW plant, talks about an anti-static surface that employees can stand on while assembling electric vehicles at the factory.

The electric vehicles driving out of Chattanooga's Volkswagen plant in a few years will resemble smartphones on wheels jammed with cloud computing technology, the automaker says.

The plant has begun prepping for a big retooling of its training of the factory's existing and future workers as they learn about safely handling batteries, electrical power and other differences in the new vehicles.

By the numbers

30: Number of electric models VW will offer worldwide by 20251 million: VW electric vehicle production capacity globally by 2025$50 billion: Amount VW will invest worldwide by 2023 on electric cars, self-driving vehicles, other new technologySource: Volkswagen

"Building a car now is not like how it will be done in the future," said Ilker Subasi, the Volkswagen Academy's head of training, at the Enterprise South industrial park plant.

The German carmaker last month took the wraps off an $800 million expansion to assemble battery-powered vehicles in Chattanooga. VW will create 1,000 new jobs in its electric vehicle offensive that includes making an electric SUV in 2022. That's in addition to the 3,800 workers now producing the traditional Passat sedan and Atlas SUV.

This year, the plant's workers will start to undergo training in the basics of electric vehicles, Subasi said.

As construction of the electric vehicle plant progresses, so will new efforts to teach up the workforce, both for those already employed and the high school students in apprenticeships and other training for jobs.

"We'll need different skill sets," Subasi said. With EVs, for example, a technician will carry diagnostic equipment rather than a tool box, he said.

Volkswagen is participating in what's known as "the fourth generation of the industrial revolution," Subasi said. The new era is marked by tech breakthroughs in robotics, artificial intelligence and the internet.

photo Staff photo by Tim Barber Ilker Subasi, the Volkswagen Academy's head of training at the plant, tells students in the Volkswagen Academie training program about the vehicle platform that will underpin the automaker's new electric cars. The mockup of the modular electric platform shown is used for training purposes.

VW's new generation of vehicles is to include self-driving cars. Already, Volkswagen and Ford Motor Co. are progressing toward a potential agreement to join forces on autonomous vehicles.

At an open house for local high school students last week at the plant, the automaker opened up its Volkswagen Academy to show off the state-of-the-art training center and its future plans.

Aaron Bun, an East Ridge High School junior in an apprenticeship program, said companies such as electric-car producer Tesla already are pushing the battery-car market.

Hopefully, he said, the technology will continue to power up battery technology and give electric vehicles more range between recharging.

"I hope to work with electric vehicles," Bun said.

Jordan Kirby, an Ooltewah High School junior also in the program, said he sees a future where more EVs on the road will help the environment and sustainability.

"It's a great thing," he said.

Volkswagen's existing employees will receive differing levels of training, depending on need, Subasi said. For example, technicians will be taught more skill sets than a typical employee because they'll be going to different parts of the plant.

Safety is a fundamental issue, Subasi said, even to the point of how to store the batteries that will go into the vehicles.

photo Staff photo by Tim Barber Hamilton County students, from right, Javier Favors, Jordan Kirby, Aaron Bun, Miles Matthews and Marko Burdeiniy, listen closely to Ilker Subasi, left, the Volkswagen Academy's head of training in Chattanooga. Subasi is showing the changes in the Automation Mechatronics Program to the MEB electric training program and the tools that will be needed to produce electric vehicles. The mockup of the modular electric platform shown is used for training purposes.

Forklift operators will require training, such as how to haul batteries and what to do if there's a spill, he said.

"The workplace will have to be ready for high voltage," the VW Academy official said. "It prepares our workforce to be safe."

At the academy, a mock-up of the vehicle platform that will hold all the brand's EVs called the modular electric toolkit, or MEB, is on-site.

"We'll explain the car platform and how MEB is different" from that underpinning the Atlas SUV, for example, Subasi said.

When teaching apprentices about the electric vehicle's electronics, he said, some 80 percent of the work will be hands-on, up from about 70 percent.

"We need the competencies," Subasi said. "Application is more important. We'll show how a charger will work."

He said the company will have to invest in different training equipment. But, VW didn't have any dollar costs available.

Due to the technology crammed into the electric vehicles, cybersecurity will be an issue, Subasi said.

"The logistics chain will have to be determined and everybody educated," he said.

Contact staff writer Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.