The auto shop at Chattanooga State Community College had an unusual high-end feel to it this week.
Nearly a dozen new luxury Audi vehicles, one typically boasting a $130,000 price tag, and a pair of Volkswagen ID.4 electric SUVs were gifted to the school to help students with hands-on repair training.
The Audi models were among a number damaged during transit, and Volkswagen Group of America joined with the Collision Repair Education Foundation and the college to enable the donation of the vehicles, officials said Thursday.
Rebecca Ashford, the college's president, said at a meeting that she'd never before seen such a donation of vehicles, and it will benefit students.
"They're getting to work on the latest and greatest," she said.
It would have taken the college a long time to give students an opportunity to work on such vehicles, Ashford said.
"It would have taken a huge investment to get one but, my gosh, 12," the school president said.
Fifteen other vehicles are going elsewhere for training in Tennessee, but the partnership with Chattanooga State is the largest, said Nicole Barranco, Volkswagen Group of America's senior director of state affairs.
"These aren't just bumper repairs of years gone by," she said at the meeting.
The vehicles have the latest technologies, such as the use of Lidar, radar and sonar, Barranco said.
"If this doesn't line up, then you miss things like a trash can or even a child playing behind a vehicle," she said.
Investments in such programs are critical to making sure students are working on the most current vehicles on the road, said Brandon Eckenrode, the Collision Repair Education Foundation's executive director.
"That technology and training is crucial," he said at the meeting. VW and its Audi luxury brand provided the vehicles to the foundation, which made the donation to the college, Eckenrode said.
He said he's hopeful other automakers will make similar efforts and donate vehicles for training programs nationally. Students interested in the work could be attracted by the opportunity to train on the latest technology, Eckenrode said.
Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp cited the partnership between VW and the college.
"What happens here is that some students who want a pathway to a better career ... come here and develop skills and abilities to earn a wage to support a family," he said at the meeting.
Jim Barrott, executive vice president at Chattanooga State with primary responsibility for the Tennessee College of Applied Technology on the campus, said at the meeting that programs benefiting from the donation help prepare people for jobs.
Barrott, who is retiring after 38 years at the school, said that such Tennessee College of Applied Technology programs have a 94% placement rate of students into jobs.