This story was updated at 5:10 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, with more information.
Volkswagen's electric vehicle offensive is gaining speed as production has begun on its I.D.4 SUV in Germany, which is the same model the automaker's Chattanooga plant will build by 2022.
"With the ID.4, Volkswagen is adding an all-electric vehicle to its offering in the compact SUV class, the world's largest growth segment," said Ralf Brandstatter, the Volkswagen brand's chief executive.
Series production of the I.D.4 is underway in Zwickau, Germany, according to the automaker. The Zwickau plant is being entirely converted to produce electric vehicles with an investment of $1.42 billion, the company said.
In Chattanooga, VW is spending $800 million on an expansion to permit production of the SUV.
Tom du Plessis, VW Chattanooga's chief executive, said that construction of the expansion is "on plan" to enlarge the existing body shop and raise a new building where battery pack assembly will take place.
While production of the Passat sedan and Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport SUVs stopped at the plant for about two months this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, construction never stopped on the expansion project, the company said.
Plant CEO du Plessis said the company will have to employ more people to prepare for the electric SUV, though VW will tread carefully given the economic fallout from the coronavirus.
"Training is staged," he said. "There's a detailed plan and a targeted plan for recruitment. We will need additional people."
While hiring will begin this year, it will ramp up in 2021, du Plessis said.
The automaker is increasing its footprint by more than 750,000 square feet to its Chattanooga facilities to produce the more environmentally friendly EVs.
The expansion includes a 564,000-square-foot addition to the body shop where Volkswagen will build both internal combustion engine vehicles and EVs on the same assembly line.
Also, the company is building a 198,000-square-foot facility adjacent to its factory for the assembly of battery packs for battery-powered vehicles.
When production of the all-electric SUV begins in early 2022, officials said, the Chattanooga plant will have capacity to assemble more than 100,000 EVs annually.
In 2021, the first full production year at Zwickau as an EV factory, some 300,000 electric vehicles will leave the plant, according to VW.
Thomas Ulbrich, VW's board member for e-mobility, said the company is on schedule with the brand's transformation process to electric vehicles.
" Given the major societal challenges of recent months, the successful start of ID.4 series production is an exceptional achievement," he said.
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