As Volkswagen Chattanooga's assembly of its first electric SUV is imminent, officials said the automaker is weighing options of how to secure all the batteries it will need in the years ahead.
"As we look to the future, it's safe to say we're very bullish about electrification," Johan de Nysschen, Volkswagen Group of America's chief operations officer, said. "We want to be at the forefront."
The VW official, speaking to journalists at the plant this month, said the Chattanooga factory's supply is coming from SK Innovation's new battery factory in Northeast Georgia.
The South Korean company has more than 1,300 people working at its $2.6 billion Commerce, Georgia, facility and expects to have 3,000 workers on board by the end of 2023. SK has contracts with Volkswagen and Ford for its batteries.
But de Nysschen said VW dealers are clamoring for the ID.4 SUV that the Chattanooga plant will start producing this summer.
To meet future demand, some auto companies are entering into joint ventures with battery makers. For example, SK has a deal with Ford Motor Co. to make batteries in Tennessee and Kentucky in the future.
Also, LG Energy Solution, another South Korean company, is partnering with General Motors to build battery plants in Tennessee and Ohio.
Another option is automakers building their own plants, de Nysschen said.
"The other alternative is a full integration and bringing in cell manufacturing," he said. "We're evaluating to ensure we also secure appropriate supply for our future objectives."
The VW official said none of the alternatives are "off the table." But, he said, the company isn't in a position to make an announcement.
Chris Glover, Volkswagen Chattanooga's president and chief executive, said to journalists that as ID.4 production ramps up, the plant already has put in more than 75,000 hours of training on the battery-powered vehicle and high voltage systems. Glover and de Nysschen spoke at the same event at the Chattanooga plant earlier this month.
"We're securing our future and securing the development, training and skillset of our employees," Glover said. "In Chattanooga, we're well poised."
Glover termed a new 223,000-square-foot battery pack assembly facility "the jewel" of the automaker's EV capacity in Chattanooga. That's where the battery cells are packaged and made ready for the vehicle assembly line.
That facility has 78 employees working two shifts, along with 89 robots, he said.
VW will build the ID.4 alongside the existing Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport SUVs, which have internal combustion engines. Already, the plant is making preproduction versions of the ID.4. Existing models have been imported from Germany.
The Chattanooga plant is hiring 1,000 more employees before year's end to produce the new ID.4 as the company adds a third shift in the biggest hiring surge since the facility started production in 2011.
This spring, the automaker said it was offering a $3,000 signing bonus to new production workers hired through Oct. 31 as the company moves to boost hiring from about 4,000 to 5,000 employees.
"We intend to be the top manufacturing employer in the area," Volkswagen Chattanooga President of Human Resources Burkhard Ulrich said at a news conference.
Ulrich said then that the plant was on track for the start of ID.4 assembly in the final week of July.
VW became the No. 2 seller of electric vehicles in the United States last year with the ID.4 and others, trailing leader Tesla, according to the company.
Bloomberg Intelligence earlier this week predicted VW will overtake Tesla in worldwide EV sales by 2024, according to Newsweek.
The report notes that for the forecast to come true, VW will need to boost its EV market share in China, where it sits at 3.5%.
Contact Staff Writer Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.