Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant officially rolled out its all-electric ID.4 SUV on Friday, with Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee citing the state's leadership in battery-powered vehicle production.
"I sat down in it. It makes you want to drive it," Lee said about the ID.4 after an hour-long event that included a few hundred of the 4,700 VW plant's workers, along with top officials with the German automaker.
Lee and others talked of the importance of the workforce at the factory that's expected to assemble 15,000 of the electric SUVs this year and about 90,000 in 2023, in addition to the conventionally powered Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport SUVs.
"The challenge and the opportunity is the workforce of the future," the governor said, adding that Tennessee already has four automakers either building or planning to produce EVs in the state.
Pablo Di Si, Volkswagen Group of America's president and chief executive, told the group about a quote from Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee and former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino: "Home field advantage is critical, but you also need a lot of talent."
He said the plant recently has gone to five-days-a-week, 24-hour-day production with the addition of a third shift.
Di Si said VW will continue to bring other models to America.
"The ID.4 will be a hit in the U.S.," he said. "We've just started to unlock the potential."
Susie Berg, who lives just outside San Francisco and is the first buyer of the Chattanooga-made ID.4, was introduced to the crowd. Berg, who recently picked up her new SUV, said she wanted an EV that is safe, peppy and has heated seats.
"Climate change is here," she said with her nephew, Harrison, noting the environmental advantages of EVs when it comes to emissions. "It's not going away. People in Chattanooga are doing a wonderful thing."
Arlo Antlitz, Volkswagen Group of America's board chairman, said the ID.4 marks "a new era for the company" in the United States in terms of electrification, growth and profitability.
"This is the time for Volkswagen to grow in the U.S.," he said.
Volkswagen invested $800 million to ready the factory to produce EVs, including a battery-pack assembly shop and a battery engineering lab. The plant has hired about 1,200 more employees to meet production levels and go to a third shift.
VW's ID.4 electric SUV
The company started production of the EV in Chattanooga in July with the first vehicles delivered to customers this month. The ID.4 also is produced in Germany.
Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly, who is a former auto dealer, said that he has an ID.4 on order and that he expects the city will convert over time to more EVs.
"What's good for Volkswagen is good for Chattanooga," he said in an interview. "We're rooting for the success of the ID.4."
Kelly said that in terms of attracting more suppliers, such as a battery plant, VW has space adjacent to the factory.
Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp said he hopes assembly of the electric SUV is a beginning of more production.
"I'm hopeful VW continues to double down," he said in an interview.
But he added that having qualified workers "is everything." Wamp said the county has to prove to VW and "prepare workers of the future for Volkswagen to continue to expand here."
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleishmann, R-Chattanooga, said at the event that the ID.4 continues VW's legacy in the city.
"The workers are the heart and soul of this place," he said.
Chris Glover, Volkswagen Chattanooga's chief executive, said the company had received 14,000 applications to fill the more than 1,000 jobs that were open.
"We're writing another chapter of our history in Chattanooga," he said at the event.
State Rep. Greg Vital, R-Georgetown, said the new SUV is "another layer of commitment of VW."
"The whole region benefits," he said in an interview.
State Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga, said the city, county and state are "stepping up" when it comes to workforce training.
"Workforce is essential ... if we're going to move this region to a brighter future," he said in an interview.
State Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, said in an interview that VW has been "a success story. It has changed the county for the better. I'm excited about continued investment."