Volkswagen breaks ground on $22 million Chattanooga lab to test, validate electric vehicle batteries

Staff photo by Mike Pare / An $800 million expansion to produce electric vehicles at Volkswagen's Chattanooga factory is going up. A new SUV is slated for assembly by 2022.

The Chattanooga region is amping up its electric vehicle sector with a pair of new facilities which will create about 140 jobs with a nearly $29 million investment.

Volkswagen on Tuesday marked the start of construction of a $22 million Battery Engineering Lab adjacent to its Chattanooga production plant.

Meanwhile, Teklas, a Turkey-based supplier of electric vehicle parts, plans to create 120 jobs in Calhoun, Georgia, as it invests $6.5 million in opening its first North American manufacturing facility.

Volkswagen's new facility will test and validate electric vehicle cells and battery packs for the North American region at the automaker's Chattanooga Engineering and Planning Center.

The lab, creating about 20 jobs, will open at VW while the carmaker completes an $800 million expansion to its plant where it will produce an electric SUV by 2022.

Volkswagen is constructing a 564,000-square-foot factory expansion and a 198,000-square-foot battery pack assembly facility. Together with the lab, the expansion will form a Volkswagen hub for EV production and engineering, according to the company.

Dr. Wolfgang Demmelbauer-Ebner, executive vice president and chief engineering officer for Volkswagen of America, said that testing batteries at the lab "helps us get vehicles to market faster, at lower cost and better tuned for U.S. customers. It also lets us ensure the safety and reliability of our batteries in conditions U.S. customers encounter every day."

South Korean battery maker SK Innovation plans to supply VW Chattanooga with batteries for the ID.4 all-electric SUV.

SK Innovation is plowing about $2.6 billion into production sites in Jackson County, Georgia, just northeast of Atlanta. The company plans to develop two manufacturing facilities along with creating 2,000 jobs.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said in a statement on Tuesday that Volkswagen's lab is "a significant development for our growing tech scene, and our Tennessee workforce is ready for the challenge."

Volkswagen has pledged to hire 1,000 more workers in Chattanooga in connection with the plant expansion. Hiring already has begun for the new EV and for assembly of the plant's existing Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport SUVs and the Passat sedan products.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Chattanooga, termed the lab "an investment in the future of automotive systems that will keep Tennessee in the forefront of car manufacturing in the United States."

In Chattanooga, VW already employs about 3,800 workers.

At the new lab, VW engineers will test battery components and the integration of the battery with the vehicle, the company said.

The lab will include pressure and immersion testers, corrosion chambers, five explosion-rated climate chambers and a custom, two-ton multi-axis shaker table. The table is designed to test the integrity of vehicle components in some of the roughest conditions they might face on the road, according to VW.

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