UT partners with VW, ORNL

The University of Tennessee System, Volkswagen and Oak Ridge National Laboratory will work together to research lightweight car components and develop electric vehicles.

UT, Volkswagen and ORNL will create Volkswagen’s first “innovation hub” in North America. The partnership will include research opportunities for UT doctoral students and faculty.

The hub will be in the Innovation North building at the UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm.

“Working with the University of Tennessee is a great opportunity to continue growing Volkswagen’s engineering footprint in the North American region,” said Wolfgang Demmelbauer-Ebner, executive vice president and chief engineering officer for Volkswagen’s North American region.

“This hub, along with other research institutions here, is an integral part of Volkswagen’s global research and development efforts and can also directly contribute to vehicles in North America.”

5 people at first, with room to grow

There will be two Volkswagen engineers and three engineering students from UT working at the innovation hub initially. Randy Boyd, interim UT System president, said they have hopes that will grow into several hundred people.

“As the land grant university, it’s part of our mission to serve the state of Tennessee,” Boyd said, adding that includes “bringing jobs and research to our state.”

At the Volkswagen Automotive Innovation Lab at Stanford University, the staff has grown from three to nearly 200, said Stacey Patterson, UT System vice president for research, outreach and economic development. UT hopes to find similar growth with its innovation hub. “I really think the sky is the limit,” Patterson said. “The opportunity to grow is up to us.”

Volkswagen is no stranger to Tennessee: It opened an assembly plant in Chattanooga in 2011 and late last year broke ground on a new electric vehicle production facility. The new facility is expected to bring 1,000 new jobs to Tennessee.

Volkswagen and UT partnerships

This is not the first partnership for the UT System and Volkswagen.

UT-Chattanooga and Volkswagen created an MBA partnership that allows Volkswagen employees to earn their MBA through classes at the plant or on campus.

Volkswagen is also a member of the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, which it refers to as IACMI. The institute is managed by Collaborative Composite Solutions, which was established by the UT Research Foundation.

“The innovations stemming from the IACMI partnership with Volkswagen have a direct and immediate impact on vehicle design and manufacturing right here in Tennessee,” UT-Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman said. “These collaborative discoveries demonstrate the real-world potential of public-private partnerships.”

Plowman said the relationship with IACMI and Oak Ridge National Laboratory helped UT stand out when Volkswagen was looking for a place to open the innovation hub. This new opportunity will be a place where “science meets innovation needs, and that’s the magic of it,” Plowman said.

UT doctoral students and faculty have already been working with Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Plowman said.

“This will make possible a lot more opportunities,” she said.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel

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Published January 17, 2020