Volkswagen Chattanooga playing in 'Super Bowl' with ID.4 assembly, official says

Over 7,000 apply for 1,200 jobs at Chattanooga plant

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Volkswagen Chattanooga CEO Chris Glover stands with a electric ID.4 SUV at the entrance to the plant on July 12, 2022.

Volkswagen Chattanooga soon will start playing in the automotive world's Super Bowl as it launches assembly of its first electric vehicle, said the plant's chief executive.

"We're going to catapult ourselves into production of one of the most technologically advanced cars that Volkswagen has to offer," said CEO Chris Glover in a recent interview at the factory in Chattanooga as the plant readies to build the battery-powered ID.4 SUV.

The plant is hiring 1,200 more employees, which will put its headcount at more than 5,000, from a pool of more than 7,000 applications which have come in mostly the past couple of months, said the factory CEO, who came on board earlier this year from a VW facility in Mexico.

That wealth of job seekers will help give Glover what he termed "the ammunition to fight for Chattanooga for some future expansion."

While the plant expects to produce about 150,000 vehicles this year, Glover said he's hopeful of doubling that number in two years with production of the ID.4 and the existing Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport SUVs.

The 57-year-old plant CEO, a native of South Africa, made those and other observations in this interview edited for space:

photo Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Volkswagen Chattanooga CEO Chris Glover stands in front of the entrance to the Chattanooga plant July 12, 2022.

Q. How did you connect with Volkswagen?

Glover: I had a three-year work contract as payback for a scholarship (at the University of Cape Town). They got a good bang for their buck. They got 39 years out of me. I've been able to explore Volkswagen internationally. I've worked five different continents (including South Africa) - three and a half years in Germany, three years in Brazil, seven and a half years in China, two and a half years in Mexico and then I transferred to Chattanooga. It has been quite a journey.

Q. Isn't acceptance of electric vehicles in China ahead of the United States?

Glover: Twenty percent of (Volkswagen's) business is coming out of China. The opportunity 10 years ago to work in China was a tipping point in my career. China has done a pretty astonishing job. There are so many startups and new companies which have gotten into that business that it's driving us at Volkswagen to go faster and faster. But that's driven ultimately by market demand.

There are unique situations and circumstances in China that have led to that astonishing growth. To get a license plate to park in the city center in Shanghai used to cost more than the car itself. The government started to say if you get an electric vehicle you can park for free. That initiated a tremendous groundswell in interest in electric vehicles.

I was involved in the introduction of a lot of special products, including construction of the first purely electric vehicle factory for Shanghai Volkswagen, which was really a very inspiring project.

Q. I'm sure you've been able to bring what you learned there to Chattanooga.

Glover: The Volkswagen production system worldwide is largely standardized. We have very similar processes for quality control of our vehicles. The U.S. brought something to China. The factory in Chattanooga was the first group standard factory. The layout in Chattanooga was the model in which we built five factories in China. There's a bit of transfer of knowledge in both directions.

Q. You've been here for six months. A lot of that is focused on finishing the expansion for the ID.4. When is the first vehicle coming off the line?

Glover: It's imminent. We're in the final stages of preparing for the launch of the ID.4. It's an extremely complex process, not only to get ourselves ready and get our own process, equipment and manpower ready, we have to bring our suppliers along as well.

Q. How important is the ID.4 to Volkswagen and this plant?

Glover: The ID.4 is recognized internationally as a very substantial product from Volkswagen. Electrification is the platform upon which Volkswagen is building its future strategy. For Chattanooga it's such a wonderful opportunity. Our only manufacturing facility in the U.S. to be given the right to produce the ID.4 and start this transformation process from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles is one we're all extremely proud about, and we're going to make a success of it.

About Chris Clover

* Born and raised in Port Elizabeth, South Africa* Studied engineering at University of Cape Town* Worked at Volkswagen for 39 years* Married father of two children* Quote: “We’ve been entrusted with the electric vehicle and we’re going achieve our objectives and goals and we’re going to wave the flag of Chattanooga strongly and forcefully.”

Q. How different is production of an electric vehicle?

Glover: The difference is actually not perhaps as severe as one might think. In Chattanooga we opted to integrate electric vehicles into our final assembly line. The fundamental difference is in the powertrain. One of the fundamental components is the battery.

Q. How is the plant able to build EVs on the same line?

Glover: Electric vehicles have a completely different platform. The EV product is on the MEB platform. The best clue lies in the 'M' which stands for modular. It's this modularity that allows us to integrate them. The biggest differential is the chassis and drivetrain. We have pre-produced modules with axles and drivetrains. Of further significance is digitalization and software. It's significantly more complex in electric vehicles.

Q. Do you see the time when EVs will reach or surpass internal combustion engine vehicles?

Glover: The difficulty is that the transformation process depends on so many factors. We talked about China and the speed of transformation was accelerated by intensive government support. That is a key component. Charging infrastructure is immensely important. The cost of the vehicle is immensely important.

We expect by the turn of this decade the tipping point to come.

Q. Isn't Volkswagen making a big bet that it will be leading the pack?

Glover: Absolutely. It's very important for me and this plant to deliver on its promises. We've been entrusted with the electric vehicle, and we're going to achieve our objectives and goals, and we're going to wave the flag of Chattanooga strongly and forcefully.

I say often to my team that Chattanooga is going to start playing in the Super Bowl. We're going to catapult ourselves into the production of one of the most technologically advanced cars that Volkswagen has to offer. We're starting this transformation which is going to be a journey of probably greater than 10 years eventually. It's our responsibility now to make or break that transformation.

Q. You're ramping up hiring. How is the plant going to reach that goal?

Glover: We're introducing a third shift. We need 1,200 new employees. The last two months we've made significant progress on that journey in recruitment of those people. I was overwhelmed to hear we've had over 7,000 applications for employment. That reassures me we'll find the 1,200 employees we need. It's an indication of the recognition of the workforce in Chattanooga. We're integrally connected with the community.

Now it's our task to convert applications into employees. I'm quite confident that with that pool of resources we'll be able to get what we need on time.

Q. News reports indicate there's another plant Volkswagen is looking at. How important is the availability of workforce for what VW wants to do in Chattanooga?

Glover: It's immensely important, but let me start out by saying that plant expansion in Chattanooga and products mentioned in the media are all speculation at this point in time. A company as large as ours is continually working on strategies and scenarios. Right now, no decisions have been taken.

Labor is one of the key variables whether Chattanooga is taken seriously as a future expansion site and 7,000 applications gives me ammunition to fight for Chattanooga for some future expansion.

Contact Mike Pare at [email protected] or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.