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Updated at 7:42 p.m. on Thursday, July 19, 2018 with more information.

A Volkswagen Group of America official says the company plans to intensify its commitment to making autos in the U.S., citing plans to produce electric vehicles by 2022.

The German automaker, with its only U.S. production plant in Chattanooga, made the comment as it and other car companies expressed concerns Thursday and today over potential tariffs by the Trump administration.

David Geanacopoulos, senior executive vice president of public affairs and public policy for Volkswagen Group of America, cited VW's $1.9 billion investment so far in Chattanooga, where about 3,500 people work making the Passat midsize sedan, the seven-seat Atlas SUV and a planned five-seat SUV starting next year.

VW is investing another $340 million for the five-seater, on which production is to begin next year in Chattanooga.

"Volkswagen Group of America fully expects its substantial positive contribution to continue and intensify in the years ahead, particularly as new technologies emerge and VWGoA integrates them into its production processes," Geanacopoulos said in a statement prior to the hearings in Washington, D.C.

For example, he said, VWGoA plans to manufacture battery-powered electric vehicles in the U.S. by 2022, and it's to install battery charging stations across the country.

"VWGoA's commitment to marshalling these technologies and their attendant parts ensures that the U.S. automobile and automotive parts industries' have at their disposal cutting-edge resources that could concurrently benefit the U.S. military should the need arise," Geanacopoulos said.

He added the Chattanooga plant has invested in significant changes to its manufacturing processes that will permit VW to substitute U.S.-made steel for imported metal.

He said the company is committed to increasing its reliance on U.S. steel sources and has a strategy to boost the absolute volume and share of metal that it gets from U.S. mills. The VW official said it has already primarily sourced its steel inputs of roughly 57,736 metric tons last year from U.S. mills.

"Our comments vividly demonstrate that neither VWGoA's U.S. production, nor its imports, create any sort of national security threat," Geanacopoulos said. "Quite to the contrary, VWGOA's presence in the U.S. contributes to economic security, which ensures national security."

Also, a Nissan North America official talked about the Japanese company's investment at its Smyrna, Tenn., production plant and engine-making factory in Decherd, Tenn.

"Our Tennessee facility has grown to become the automotive industry's largest production facility in the United States and, proudly, in the entire Western Hemisphere," said Scott E. Becker, senior vice president of administration for Nissan North America.

He said Nissan's three manufacturing sites in the U.S., Smyrna, Decherd, and Canton, Miss., have a combined production capacity of more than 1 million vehicles and 1.5 million powertrains annually.

Since 1981, Nissan has invested $11.8 billion into U.S. manufacturing, and it employs more than 22,000 workers, Becker said.

He said tariffs on autos or auto parts "would not help U.S. national security, but rather threaten the jobs of hard-working Americans and U.S. technological leadership in the automotive sector."

General Motors, which has a production plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., said if import tariffs on autos are not tailored to specifically advance the objectives of the economic and national security goals of the U.S., that could leaded to a smaller GM.

"The threat of steep tariffs on vehicle and auto component imports risks undermining GM's competitiveness against foreign auto producers by erecting broad brush trade barriers that increase our global costs," the company said in a statement.

GM said that at some point, a tariff impact will be felt by customers.

"Based on historical experience, if cost is passed on to the consumer via higher vehicle prices, demand for new vehicles could be impacted," the company said.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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