VW eyes an elec­tric fu­ture in Chat­tanooga

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - FRONT PAGE - BY MIKE PARE STAFF WRITER

DE­TROIT — As Volk­swa­gen makes a big bet on elec­tric ve­hi­cles world­wide, the au­tomaker ap­pears ready to amp up pro­duc­tion plans for its Chat­tanooga plant.

Jes­sica Cald­well, an an­a­lyst for auto re­searcher Ed­munds, said elec­tric ve­hi­cles are where all the big play­ers in the auto in­dus­try are head­ing.

“It’s very im­por­tant,” she said. “When you look at the land­scape in the fu­ture, there are a lot of ve­hi­cles that will be elec­tri­fied in some form.”

Mon­day, at the North Amer­i­can In­ter­na­tional Auto Show here, the Ger­man car­maker is ex­pected to show­case plans for fu­ture elec­tric ve­hi­cle pro­duc­tion in Chat­tanooga.

VW of­fi­cials de­clined to com­ment ahead of a morn­ing an­nounce­ment that’s to draw top of­fi­cials.

How­ever, com­pany of­fi­cials in Amer­ica and Ger­many have for months talked about the pos­si­bil­ity of mak­ing bat­tery-pow­ered ve­hi­cles in North Amer­ica, in­clud­ing in Chat­tanooga, where VW al­ready em­ploys about 3,500 peo­ple mak­ing the Pas­sat sedan and the At­las SUV.

Last fall, Volk­swa­gen of­fi­cials in Chat­tanooga said up to 1,000 more jobs could be added at the plant as the com­pany planned to hire a third shift to bol­ster pro­duc­tion. But it’s un­clear if those jobs are tied to Mon­day’s an­nounce­ment.

Late last year, at the Los An­ge­les Auto Show, Volk­swa­gen Group of Amer­ica CEO Scott Keogh said

the au­tomaker was scout­ing sites in North Amer­ica for elec­tric ve­hi­cle pro­duc­tion and the Chat­tanooga plant was an op­tion.

“We are 100 per­cent deep in the process of ‘We will need an elec­tric car plant in North Amer­ica,’ and we’re hold­ing those con­ver­sa­tions now,” he said.

Keogh said VW’s Chat­tanooga plant has room for ex­tra assem­bly at the fac­tory that makes the Pas­sat sedan, the seven-seat At­las sport util­ity ve­hi­cle and, soon, a five-seat ver­sion of the SUV on which pro­duc­tion is to be­gin this year.

Also, a pos­si­ble Volk­swa­gen-Ford Mo­tor Co. col­lab­o­ra­tion could be re­vealed Tues­day. It, too, may in­volve elec­tric ve­hi­cles. With the high ex­pense of de­vel­op­ing elec­tric and self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles, au­tomak­ers are hav­ing to man­age their costs, Reuters re­ported last week.

VW of­fi­cials have talked about gain­ing ac­cess to Ford’s Tran­sit com­mer­cial van and the Ranger mid­size pickup truck, as well as build­ing their ve­hi­cles in Ford plants.

Ten­nessee Gov. Bill Haslam said in De­cem­ber that build­ing elec­tric ve­hi­cles in Chat­tanooga would be “the next log­i­cal step” for the Ger­man au­tomaker.

“We’re very hope­ful,” he said. “We con­tinue to be in dis­cus­sions.”

Volk­swa­gen Group CEO Her­bert Diess said in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., after a White House meet­ing that the com­pany was in ad­vanced talks with Ten­nessee about a sec­ond plant.

But he added that there are other op­tions. Diess said then that VW was talk­ing with Ford about po­ten­tially mak­ing ve­hi­cles at the Amer­i­can au­tomaker’s plants as part of a wider agree­ment.

VW ex­pects to spend $50 bil­lion on de­vel­op­ing elec­tric cars, au­tonomous driv­ing and new mo­bil­ity ser­vices by 2023 world­wide.

Chat­tanooga Mayor Andy Berke, while not com­ment­ing on po­ten­tial elec­tric ve­hi­cle assem­bly, said there is phys­i­cal room at VW’s En­ter­prise South in­dus­trial park plant to grow the auto sec­tor.

“When we have dis­cus­sions of land at En­ter­prise South, we’re con­scious of fu­ture growth,” he said. En­ter­prise South is the 6,000-acre for­mer U.S. Army mu­ni­tions fac­tory that the city and Hamil­ton County bought, cleaned up and pitched to ma­jor com­pa­nies.

Berke said there’s enough room for VW to mir­ror its ex­ist­ing plant as well as for the au­tomaker’s sup­pli­ers to ex­pand to the site, should com­pa­nies make the in­vest­ment.

“There’s also room at En­ter­prise South for more sup­pli­ers and to con­tinue eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment,” he said.

Con­tact Mike Pare at [email protected]­freep­ress. com or 423-757-6318. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @MikePareTFP.

STAFF FILE PHOTO BY ERIN O. SMITH

Volk­swa­gen em­ploy­ees work around ve­hi­cles mov­ing down the assem­bly line at the Chat­tanooga assem­bly plant last year.

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