Volkswagen is on pace to become the world’s most productive car manufacturer, a goal it should attain this year. Its US sales have performed poorly, due in large part to a dearth of alluring models. A new, 7-passenger crossover utility vehicle may help reverse its North American fortunes, with production commencing in Tennessee by late 2016. Furthermore, that Chattanooga assembly plant is currently under expansion and new workers are being hired to supplement the current staff of 2,400 Volkswagen employees.
New Hires for Chattanooga, Tennessee
The Volkswagen Group of America plans to hire 2,000 new workers at its manufacturing plant near Chattanooga, Tennessee, as it expands that manufactory to accommodate a new, 7-passenger crossover utility vehicle. The plant, Volkswagen’s only manufacturing facility in the United States, currently builds the midsize Passat sedan. Because of the expansion, the automaker will hire 2,000 new workers as confirmed late last month.
The plant expansion, underway since January, will add square footage to the existing body and paint shops as well as to the assembly line. At present, the facility occupies nearly 2 million square feet and has a maximum build capacity of 150,000 vehicles. For this reason, an additional 512,886 square feet will be added to welcome the new SUV.
The Chattanooga expansion is part of a $900 million Volkswagen Group of America investment, what includes $600 million for its Tennessee operations alone. Besides adding a second paint line with robots, tanks, and pumps, and increasing the square footage of its others key shops, the company is building a new visitors center to be located in downtown Chattanooga. That center is expected to open in summer 2016.
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Engineer Hiring Underway
Hiring for as many as 200 engineers is currently underway in Chattanooga. The company’s National Engineering and Planning Center have already established a temporary base adjacent to the factory, headed by Dr. Matthias Erb. Consequently, the center “will serve as a high-level research and development hub and will house product-related functions such as technical scouting, innovation management, and product management,” explained Volkswagen in a related press release.
Since opening in 2011, the Chattanooga plant has assembled a US-spec Volkswagen Passat midsize sedan. That five-passenger, front-wheel drive model has had to battle formidable competition, including the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, as well as the Hyundai Sonata and other sedans. Thus, its sales have fallen short of projections, with just 96,649 units sold in 2014, down 11.9 percent from 2013.
Passat Update; CrossBlue Anticipation
Despite the Passat’s lagging fortunes, Volkswagen has a mid-product-cycle upgrade planned to commence this summer and in time for the 2016 model year. That upgrade should deliver an emotive design, one better suited to take on the likes of the Ford Fusion and Honda’s Accord. In this case, we are likely to see a model that is refreshed inside and out, with its gasoline and diesel powertrain options continuing intact.
The new model, based on the CrossBlue concept, will be manufactured on the company’s mid-sized MQB or modular platform, offer three rows of seating, and carry seven people. Moreover, the CrossBlue will be powered by a turbocharged diesel 3.0-liter inline-six engine, as part of a plug-in hybrid system with a pair of electric motors and a 6-speed dual-clutch transmission. Notably, this model is expected to produce more than 500 horsepower and have a total range of about 660 miles. Likewise, a 14-mile electric-only range has been projected.
Inside, the Volkswagen CrossBlue (Volkswagen Atlas) will feature a 10.2-inch touchscreen color display, controlling all infotainment functions as well as the hybrid system’s status. The concept vehicle, presented at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, integrated iPad mini devices in the back of the front-row head restraints. In addition, Volkswagen plans to include a Fender Premium audio system and offer localized climate control for both second- and third-row passengers.
Grand Debut in 2016
Likely, full details about the Volkswagen CrossBlue won’t be released until it is formally presented at a major US auto show in early 2016. Detroit seems like a logical venue for that presentation.
See Also — Big-Time Hit: 2018 Volkswagen Atlas SUV
Photo courtesy of the Volkswagen Group of America, Inc.