Back in the dark days of automobiles (1978), Volkswagen became only the second European manufacturer to set up a manufacturing facility in the United States since Rolls-Royce in the 1920s.
Previously employed as a Chrysler shop, and commonly referred to as the Westmoreland Plant for the county in which it sat, 2500 or so employees screwed together Golfs and the occasional Jetta until the New Stanton, Pennsylvania, factory was shuttered in 1988 amid large financial losses. Slumming toward the 1990s, it was questioned whether or not VW would continue to sell cars in America at all.
Today with sales strong and steady, Volkswagen appear to be trying again, this time in the heart of Dixie.
The new Chattanooga, Tennessee, factory is set to start squeezing out new VWs in early 2011. Volkswagen is slightly mum on exactly what will be sent forth to help achieve their goal of one million vehicles sold in the United States by 2018. However, they do let on a new midsize sedan designed just for that market will be the bulk of their projected startup run of 150,000 cars per year.
Stefan Jacoby, President and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, said, “This is a significant step forward in achieving our goals in the U.S. market and a clear sign of the Volkswagen Group’s commitment to the North American consumer.”
The size and scope of the facility is immense. By the time they are done, it will cover over 12 square kilometers. The size of the paint shop by itself is somewhere near 47 football (soccer for you US readers) fields. Think Delaware, but with spray robots and a roof.
Of course, VW is touting the “Greenness” of the new plant. Innovations include; using hot exhaust gasses from manufacturing to produce hot water for the factory; collecting, filtering and recycling rain water to be used in restrooms; installing high-efficiency, 100% recyclable insulation material made from six-inch mineral rock wool that contains no VOCs or CFCs.
Chattanooga Operations, or Enterprise South as VW has been calling its new baby, is located close to downtown Chattanooga and is serviced by two heavy industrial rail lines and a middle-sized airport.
Other manufacturing plants include Komatsu and Coca-Cola, not to mention Little Debbie snack cakes. There is art, music and education. Don’t forget the famous southern BBQ.
Volkswagen is spending somewhere around US$1 Billion to build their new home. They expect to employ at least 2000 people at startup in positions ranging from line workers to human resources to project managers.
The cars are cool, the company is healthy. Let’s all hope it goes better than last time. More photos below.