Volkswagen expands innovation hub and research in Tennessee

Contributed Photo / Pablo Di Si, president of Volkswagen Group of America, looks over a vehicle at Volkswagens Innovation Hub at the Cherokee Farm in Knoxville. VW is conducting research and developing more engineering talent in a joint venture with the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Volkswagen Group of America Inc., which is expanding its Chattanooga facility to 5,500 employees this year as it expands its U.S. production of electric vehicles, announced Wednesday it also plans to accelerate research on more than 10 new projects in the next couple of years at Volkswagen's innovation hub at the University of Tennessee Research Park at Cherokee Farm in Knoxville.

VW and the University of Tennessee in Knoxville formed a research collaboration three years ago in conjunction with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the largest of the science and energy lab operated by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Building on the program's initial success, Volkswagen and UT officials said Wednesday they plan joint research projects and more doctoral degree fellowships and internship positions with Volkswagen. VW also will establish dedicated guest lectures with company experts and additional student engagement programs starting in October, according to a news release from VW.

"We are leveraging the ingenuity and innovation of the Tennessee Valley," Pablo Di Si, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, said in a statement Wednesday. "Through our great partnership with the University of Tennessee, we are driving Volkswagen's vision to build more sustainable transportation for all."

Volkswagen began production at its only U.S. assembly plant in Chattanooga in 2011 and has grown the Chattanooga facility during the past 13 years, making Volkswagen Passats, Atlas SUVs, the Atlas Cross Sport and the ID.4 SUV. The German-based automaker was the world's second-largest car manufacturer in 2022, behind only Toyota.

Engaging with UT and other research institutions in the United States "also helps to source engineering talent for Volkswagen" as it expands its research facilities in both Knoxville and Chattanooga, said Di Si, who moved to Chattanooga after being named last September to help head VW's North American operations.

The Oak Ridge National Laboratory technology unit is focused on advanced research in automotive lightweight structures, sustainable materials and electric mobility. The research program includes Volkswagen employees and UT faculty, doctoral and undergraduate students, Di Si said.

In addition to the work at the innovation hub in Knoxville, some of the projects will be done at the VW Engineering and Planning Center and the Battery Engineering Lab in Chattanooga.

"The future of mobility is happening in Tennessee — and it's happening now," University of Tennessee in Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman said in a statement Wednesday. "Together, we are developing the technologies that will transform the automotive industry and build the workforce of the future."

— Compiled by Dave Flessner

  photo  Contributed Photo / Volkswagen of America President Pablo Di Si, left, appears at the Innovation Hub in Knoxville with University of Tennessee in Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman, center, and UT President Randy Boyd, right.