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Staff Photo / Two 2020 Atlas Cross Sports are driven out at the Volkswagen assembly plant on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Volkswagen's Chattanooga production plant is embarking on its biggest hiring surge since the factory opened more than a decade ago as it launches the assembly of its first electric vehicle in July.

The company is hiring about 1,000 more employees as the factory moves to adding a third shift and employing 4,500, said Burkhard Ulrich, the plant's senior vice president of human resources.

"It's a competitive market," he said in an interview. "It's a challenge. We're up to the challenge."

Ulrich said the starting rate is $19.50 per hour with two years of prior manufacturing or distribution experience or military service. People with three years can earn $20.50 per hour, he said.

VW also provides up to a 16% quarterly bonus, Ulrich said. In addition, there's a $1.50 extra per hour for workers on second and third shifts, he said.

He said interested prospective employees can go online to wearevolkswagen.com to apply.

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The hiring comes as Volkswagen begins production this summer of the ID.4 battery-powered vehicle. VW became the No. 2 seller of EVs in the United States last year with its ID.4, which is now imported from Germany, and other electric vehicles, trailing leader Tesla, according to the company.

Chattanooga production of the ID.4, slated for assembly alongside the existing Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport SUVs, comes after the company completed an $800 million expansion at the factory.

Amanda Plecas, VW Chattanooga's head of communications, said the plant recently showed 60 Minutes' Leslie Stahl around the factory to see the updated areas, including its new battery pack assembly operation.

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Staff Photo by Mike Pare / Rayana Monzon, a six-year employee at Volkswagen Chattanooga's paint shop, is shown in an April 8, 2022, photo.

Stahl also met with Scott Keogh, Volkswagen Group of America's chief executive. The 60 Minutes piece is tentatively slated to air a week from Sunday, according to VW.

Rayana Monzon, a six-year Volkswagen employee who works in the paint shop, said she's looking forward to production of the ID.4 SUV.

"It's exciting. We've started painting some," she said in an interview, citing the assembly of pre-production versions of the EV. "It's a really cool-looking vehicle. We've got some nice colors."

Monzon, a 35-year-old Soddy Daisy High School graduate whose husband Mikael also works in the plant, said she likes the pay and benefits. A new mother, she said the plant has a mother's room where she can nurse, for example.

Also, she likes the stability a third shift will bring to employees and the opportunities EV production brings.

"I see growth, growth and more growth," Monzon said.

Ulrich said compared to the 1,000-employee addition, the next biggest hiring surge was in 2020 when the factory added about 500 employees.

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Staff Photo by Mike Pare / Burkhard Ulrich, senior vice president of human resources at Volkswagen Chattanooga, is shown in an April 8, 2022, photo.

He said that seeing the pre-production ID.4 vehicles come off of the assembly line with the existing Atlas products gives employees "a sense of belonging."

"It sets us apart from other factories," Ulrich said, adding that workers "can be part of the success story" of the ID.4. "For us, it's not just a job. People want to build a career."

Plecas said while prospective employees start the job-seeking process online, they are later brought to a location on the Enterprise South industrial park campus for in-person interviews and medical evaluations. They can receive job offers the same day, she said.

Keogh said in a virtual roundtable with journalists earlier in the year that other electric SUVs are expected after 2026 in North America. Also, the company is studying whether to produce an electric truck for the U.S. market, and there's a chance the ID.Buzz, the electric version of the iconic Microbus, could be built in the U.S. depending on sales.

Volkswagen recently announced plans to spend $7.1 billion in North America to boost its product lineup, carry out more research and development and bolster production in the region. VW is targeting 55% of all its sales in the U.S to be fully electric by 2030.

Keogh said ID.4 production capacity in Chattanooga is from 100,000 to 120,000 units per year. That figure, coupled with existing demand for the Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport, would maximize the Chattanooga plant, the VW official said. But he said the company is overwhelmed with demand for the ID.4.

Plans are to double sales this year, and then do it again in 2023, the official said.

"And frankly, we're just getting started," Keogh said. "It's our mission to lead the industry in a new era."

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

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