VW moving ahead with Chattanooga plant expansion, SUV, jobs

VW moving ahead with Chattanooga plant expansion, SUV, jobs

January 11th, 2016 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Herbert Diess, chairman of the board of Volkswagen Brand, speaks during a keynote address at CES International, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, in Las Vegas.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

“We stand firmly behind our Chattanooga plant.”
Herbert Diess, Volkswagen

Key Volkswagen officials on Monday reaffirmed the company's Chattanooga plant expansion, its planned new sport utility vehicle and the hiring of 2,000 more employees.

"We stand firmly behind our Chattanooga plant," said Herbert Diess, head of the German automaker's Volkswagen brand worldwide, at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

FILE - In this Sept. 21, 2015 file photo President and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. Michael Horn at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York. Volkswagen's top U.S.-based executive is expected to testify before Congress Thursday that he first learned in 2014 of emissions problems with the German automaker's diesel cars. But in prepared remarks, Volkswagen Group of America CEO Michael Horn doesn't directly address when he was first told his company had developed on-board computer software designed to deceive emissions tests. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen, File)

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Photo by The Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Volkswagen AG chief executive officer Matthias Muller speaks in Detroit, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016.

Volkswagen AG chief executive officer Matthias Muller speaks...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Auto job fair

A Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce job fair specific to the auto sector is slated for Feb. 18 from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Chattanooga Housing Authority, 801 N. Holtzclaw Ave.

Contributed photo / The Tiguan GTE Active Concept is a new SUV the company is looking at introducing into the U.S. market. It likely would be made at VW's Mexico production plant and would join a new Chattanooga-assembled midsize SUV on the market.

Contributed photo / The Tiguan GTE Active Concept...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Diess said the $900 million factory expansion in Chattanooga, including $600 million VW is to spend in Tennessee, is on schedule with assembly of the midsize, seven-seat SUV to begin late this year.

He also said the company and regulators have made progress related to its emissions-rigging issue over the last couple of weeks, and he's optimistic of a solution soon.

"We're committed to making this right," Diess said.

Volkswagen CEO Matthias Mueller is to meet Wednesday with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy related to a fix of the nearly half-million diesel-powered VWs that don't meet environmental standards. He said he will propose to U.S. authorities a new catalytic converter system that could be fitted to about 430,000 cars capable of cheating diesel emissions tests.

"We have one in the works, and we believe that that will be a part of the technical solutions," Reuters reported Mueller as saying.

Mueller, too, said VW is standing by its commitment to the Chattanooga plant.

"The U.S. is and remains a core market for the Volkswagen Group," he said.

Michael Horn, Volkswagen Group of America's chief executive, cited the newly designed Chattanooga-made Passat, saying it will better satisfy buyers of the midsize sedan.

In addition to modest sheetmetal changes to the car's appearance, the Passat's interior has been refined, Horn said.

"We put a lot of effort in the active and passive safety system," he said. The Passat received a Top Safety Pick+ rating by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety when equipped with the optional Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking (Front Assist) system.

"Volkswagen is committed to introducing great new products," Horn said.

At the auto show, VW introduced an off-road version of the second-generation Tiguan SUV that features a plug-in hybrid drivetrain and a gesture control-enabled infotainment system.

The concept for the Tiguan marks the kickoff of an SUV product offensive that includes the seven-seat Chattanooga sport utility vehicle, according to the car company. VW also has committed to producing a seven-seat Tiguan SUV in Mexico.

In Chattanooga, VW already has begun hiring efforts to meet the demands of producing the midsize SUV.

Bill Kilbride, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's chief executive, said the chamber is gearing up for a busy spring of job fairs, many focusing on the auto manufacturing sector. VW suppliers also are hiring in the area.

"Several Chamber members are working closely with our workforce development team to match applicants with open jobs," he said.

A Chattanooga Chamber job fair specific to the auto sector is scheduled for Feb. 18 from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Chattanooga Housing Authority, 801 N. Holtzclaw Ave.

Karl Brauer, a senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, said VW needs a competitive new SUV to cash in on America's hunger for such vehicles.

"This all-new Tiguan, built on VW's advanced MQB platform, should put the German automaker back on even footing in the lucrative midsize SUV segment. Offering an advanced plug-in hybrid version also confirms VW's commitment to alternative powertrain technology beyond diesel engines," he said. The MQB system allows diverse models to be manufactured at the same plant.

Diess added that even existing expansion plans in Chattanooga aren't enough for the carmaker in the future.

"We need more innovation, higher quality and better design," he said.

As part of its plan to hire 2,000 more workers in addition to 2,400 at the plant, VW is staffing its fledgling engineering and design center in Chattanooga.

Contact staff writer Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.


Updated Jan. 11 at 11 p.m.


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