Electric SUV brings 1,000 new jobs to VW Chattanooga

In early 2022, the first Volkswagen electric SUVs should roll off a new production line in Chattanooga.

To make them, an $800 million expansion of the Volkswagen Chattanooga Assembly Plant was announced Wednesday. It’s expected to create 1,000 jobs The compact SUV will require a new assembly line, since it’s a completely new chassis, with the battery an integral part of its structure, said Tom du Plessis, CEO of Volkswagen Chattanooga.

“We will reveal the new car in the U.S. next year,” said David Geanacopoulos, senior executive vice president for public affairs and public policy, Volkswagen Group of America. Production will begin in Germany, and start in Chattanooga in 2022, he said.

“It’s aimed at the heart of the U.S. market,” Geanacopoulos said.

About 200 state, local and company officials, auto industry representatives, plant employees and media gathered in a heated tent behind the current factory. Nearby, a row of gold-tone ceremonial shovels waited in front of excavators and dump trucks. Following speeches under the tent, officials lined up for the ceremonial dirt-tossing, then signed the shovels they’d used.

The Chattanooga factory began making the Passat in 2011 and in 2017 expanded to also make the Atlas SUV. Now Volkswagen is showing its confidence in Chattanooga with this project, du Plessis said.

It’s “not just another car,” but the start of a major electric push for the company, he said.

Prototypes have a 235-mile range, with a battery lasting more than 15 years, du Plessis said.

A price hasn’t been set, but should be “competitive” with other electric vehicles, he said.

Du Plessis said the plant is expected to produce more than 100,000 electric vehicles a year – possibly 200,000, depending on the market. And this compact SUV is likely to be only the first of several models made here, with more coming as public adoption of electric vehicles grows, he said.

The facility will also include an assembly site for the vehicles’ electric battery packs, which will be made at SK Innovation in north Georgia, Geanacopoulos said.

The plant expansion includes a 564,000-square-foot addition to the body shop and another 198,000 square feet for the battery pack assembly, according to a company news release.

Construction is expected to take 17 months, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said.

Bob Rolfe, state Economic & Community Development commissioner, said before Gov. Bill Lee was even sworn in, Lee had already agreed to “commit significant capital” to this project. Volkswagen has invested more than $2 billion in Tennessee thus far, Rolfe said.

The state is providing a $50 million grant as an incentive for the new plant, he said. The Chattanooga facility competed with other Volkswagen plants worldwide to secure the electric vehicle factory, Rolfe said.

Hiring for the new factory should start near the end of 2020, du Plessis said.

When hiring begins, jobs will be posted under the careers tab at www.volkswagengroupofamerica. com, said Amanda Plecas, communications manager for Volkswagen Chattanooga. Starting pay is likely to be $16 an hour, rising to $17 after six months and $19.70 after two years, she said.

Geanacopoulos announced Volkswagen is partnering with the Conservation Fund to expand the 650,000-acre Cherokee National Forest by 1,500 acres. According to the Conservation Fund, Volkswagen is contributing $1.25 million for the environmental nonprofit group to buy land for the forest, with any leftover funds to be used for community grants in East Tennessee.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel , by Jim Gaines

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit www.eteda.org

Published November 22, 2019