Volkswagen Chattanooga is on pace to hire 1,000 more workers in the next year to build the ID.4 electric SUV in the third quarter of 2022 and add a third shift, an official said Tuesday.
However, the semiconductor chip shortage that has hit the auto industry likely will put the brakes on expectations that the factory will set a new production record for 2021.
"We'll end up with the second highest volume," said Tom du Plessis, president and chief executive of the company's Chattanooga operations, to a group of journalists visiting the factory.
While hiring will ramp up at the plant and put it at over 4,500 employees, the factory is in pre-production of the ID.4, the battery-powered vehicle that is spearheading the automaker's electric future in America, according to the company.
The plant's CEO said that an $800 million expansion at the factory to grow the body shop and to build a battery assembly facility has created "a very high degree of automation." The body shop has over 400 robots to do highly repetitive jobs and "guarantee good quality,"du Plessis said.
Also, the factory is conducting high-voltage training for workers, he said.
"Safety, safety, safety," du Plessis said.
Johan de Nysschen, chief operating officer at Volkswagen Group's North American Region, said sales of the ID.4, which is now assembled in Germany are off to "a good start." He added that the SUV was the No. 3 best-selling EV in August.
"We're in desperately short supply," the region's COO said about the ID.4 that went on sale in America around March. "We can't wait for production to come on stream in Chattanooga. The market is poised for an accelerated adopting of EVs."
He said the ID.4 is "only our opening salvo" in the EV space in America.
"The ID.4 is the first of many EV entries for the VW brand and group," he said, adding the German automaker is making a $41 billion commitment worldwide on battery-powered vehicles.
Moving toward EVs is good for business and the planet, de Nysschen said.
"You can't separate environmental concerns and economic issues," he said.
After the ID.4, de Nysschen said the ID.Buzz is set to arrive in the market. The Buzz, expected to be built in Germany, is a nod to those who recall the VW Microbus but an electric vehicle that will "draw many new entrants."
The Chattanooga plant also produces the Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport SUVs and the Passat, though assembly of the sedan will end this winter as the market continues to move to crossovers.
de Nysschen said VW is prioritizing the Atlas when it comes to how the company is parceling out semiconductor chips. He said the Atlas family is the fifth best-selling midsize SUV in America.
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