This story was updated Thursday, May 21, 2020, at 6:22 p.m. with more information.
Two months to the day after Volkswagen closed its Chattanooga plant amid the COVID-19 outbreak, the factory's CEO said Thursday that the timing is right for restarting operations.
"It's a good time to start up and get going," said Tom du Plessis, who heads VW Chattanooga. Workers started returning to the plant last Sunday.
The plant's chief executive said during a briefing with Chattanooga media over Zoom that the factory has all the key components to build vehicles again.
He cited the workers and their health, a steady parts supply, and a demand for vehicles.
"The health and safety of everybody in the factory is really critical," said du Plessis as he and others outlined some of the 90 measures VW is taking inside the factory that employs about 3,800 people.
Also, du Plessis said, the supply base to provide parts to VW is lined up, and the automaker has demand for its vehicles.
"It's not quite business as usual yet ... , but it's wonderful to make VW products in Chattanooga," he said. "We're fortunate to have great demand."
Dr. Mark Anderson, an infectious disease specialist at CHI Memorial in Chattanooga who toured the plant about a week ago with hospital CEO Janelle Reilly, said the preparations VW made for employees were "very impressive."
"I feel like they've created a safe environment to work," he said.
VW employee April Ziegler said the company is stopping production lines during the day "to clean everything."
"That makes me feel better about coming to work and not spreading germs," she said.
Concerning work on the $800 million plant expansion to produce an electric vehicle, du Plessis said that construction is on schedule.
"At this stage there is no delay," he said. "We'll have to assess the business going forward. We can't predict or speculate about the future."
Last year, VW started work on the expansion to make an all-electric SUV by 2022. The expansion includes a 564,000-square-foot addition to the body shop. In addition, the company is building a 198,000–square-foot plant for the assembly of battery packs for electric vehicles at the Chattanooga site.
The existing plant that makes the Passat sedan and the Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport SUVs is undergoing a slow ramp-up that will take four weeks or longer, du Plessis said.
"It's going to take some time to adjust," he said. "Things will stabilize. Things will get better over time."
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