VW Electric Autos to Boost Chattanooga Economy

By Tia Capps

More than one thousand jobs, $800 million in investment and the production of hundreds of thousands of next-generation cars are on their way to Chattanooga, thanks to Volkswagen AG’s recent decision to locate its North American electric vehicle facility at Enterprise South Industrial Park.

This move solidifies Chattanooga’s growth as a viable destination for the auto industry, marking the fourth occasion Volkswagen has selected the city for major production facilities and expansions. In 2008, Volkswagen chose Chattanooga as the site of its only U.S. manufacturing plant and home of the Passat sedan, bringing more than 2,000 jobs and $1.9 billion in investment to the area.

Just six years later, the company announced it would expand its Chattanooga facility to produce the midsize Atlas SUV and Atlas Cross Sport, adding 2,000 more jobs and $900 million to its initial investment. In 2014, Volkswagen grew that investment by an additional $340 million.

The new electric vehicle planned for the Chattanooga plant is a production version of the I.D. CROZZ, which will feature an interior augmented reality display and autonomous driving mode, as well as quick charging times averaging about 30 minutes. The new model is projected to be available to customers in the U.S. by 2020. These first I.D. vehicles will be produced in Germany, with Chattanooga production slated to begin in 2022. Facility construction begins this year.

“Electric vehicles are critical to the future of our economy and the world economy, and to have these vehicles manufactured right here is extremely exciting for all of our residents and for our entire region,” says Christy Gillenwater, President and CEO of the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce. “We are excited to be VW’s first manufacturing facility in North America for electric vehicles.”

Expanding the terrain for local workforce

Volkswagen’s latest investment in its Chattanooga facility is projected to boost its employment numbers to a total of more than 5,000 jobs.

“This is a continued investment from a local company that believes in Hamilton County,” Gillenwater says. “More importantly they believe in our workforce here in Hamilton County and Chattanooga.”

Now one of the largest employers in Hamilton County, Volkswagen has also invested significant resources into educational and vocational training programs, such as the Volkswagen eLabs initiative and the Volkswagen Mechatronics Akademie.

In 2018, Volkswagen Chattanooga, in partnership with the State of Tennessee, Hamilton County Department of Education (HCDE), and Public Education Foundation (PEF), named eight additional HCDE schools to receive digital fabrication equipment as part of the Volkswagen eLabs initiative. The eight schools represent the second round of recipients for the Volkswagen eLabs, fulfilling Volkswagen’s commitment to open a total of 16 eLabs in Hamilton County schools over a two year period. Volkswagen eLabs, the result of a $1 million donation by Volkswagen Chattanooga and the State of Tennessee, provide students access to digital fabrication tools including automated manufacturing equipment, programmable microcomputers, renewable energy kits, 3D-printers, robotics, laser cutters and other emergent technologies that will empower them to engage in authentic problem solving.

The Volkswagen Mechatronics Akademie, a workforce development initiative that features a partnership between HCDE, Chattanooga State Community College and Volkswagen Chattanooga, features a curriculum for high school students which allows them to complete their junior and senior years while earning more than 40 credit hours toward an associate degree in Mechatronics at Chattanooga State. Beginning in the fall of 2016, a cohort of 24 juniors from four area high schools (Central, East Hamilton, Ooltewah and Tyner Academy) enrolled in the program.

Along with the jobs created at Volkswagen, an influx of auto suppliers at Enterprise South continues to expand employment opportunities in Hamilton County.

“The workers at VW are our neighbors,” Gillenwater says. “They’re in our schools. They’re throughout our community here in Hamilton County and Chattanooga. So we are truly honored to be partnering with VW on this announcement, as well as the state.”

Gov. Bill Haslam and state economic development officials worked closely with local government and TVA leaders to secure Volkswagen’s latest expansion at Enterprise South.

“Our economic development team has had a strong rapport with VW’s management since they arrived here, and really prior to their investment in Hamilton County,” Gillenwater says.

As Volkswagen continues to transform the landscape of our local economy, the future is looking incredibly bright for the Chattanooga area.

For more details about Volkswagen’s latest expansion in Hamilton County, click here. To learn more about the state’s role in securing the investment, click here.