TIMELINE: Volkswagen in Chattanooga
Rumors were swirling in 2008. Chattanooga had a prime plot for an automaker: 1,600 acres at Enterprise South. On the table were lots of land, easy access to all modes of transportation, and a city, a county, and a state hungry to strike a deal.
Toyota had considered the Scenic City site in 2007, but opted for Mississippi, instead. Then, there was Volkswagen looking to get back into the US market in a big way.
By summer of 2008, it was reportedly down to two: a site in Huntsville, Alabama, and here, the rehabbed former home of the Volunteer Ammunitions Plant. On July 15th came one of the happier announcements Chattanooga has seen since Walter Cronkite labeled it the country's dirtiest city in 1969. It was a bright sunny day on the cliffs overlooking the Tennessee River when Stefan Jacoby, then-President of Volkswagen America, stepped to a microphone at the Hunter Museum and, to thunderous applause, said, "The Volkswagen Group is building its factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee."
Things then began to move. In October, Channel 3 flew to Wolfsburg, Germany, home to the Volkswagen Auto Group, the Autostadt, and, at 5,000 acres, what is said to be the largest auto plant in the world. Inside, we toured the facilities with then-Governor Phil Bredesen and other Tennessee dignitaries, and enjoyed a taste of what to expect in Chattanooga.
Flash forward to February 3rd, 2009 as construction began on the 2-and-a-half million square foot plant at Enterprise South. We were there, live, 3 months later to bring you the ceremonial raising of the first wall on May 14th. All of the buildings: body, paint, assembly, tech, and training, were water-tight by the end of the year.
As the first robots were installed on Valentine's Day 2010, speculation was burning over just what Chattanooga's plant would produce. VW had begun releasing sketches of the New Mid-size Sedan, or "NMS", the previous October. As each drawing added a little more detail, the first car was quietly being assembled, and on June 17th, it was secretly carried away for test drives.
Soon thereafter, we began obtaining spy pictures, trying to piece together the exact look; and how about a name?
By August 23rd of 2010, the first thousand people had been hired for the Chattanooga plant.
The debut of the NMS, a car Volkswagen long-said was specifically designed for the American market and driver, was appropriately set for the Motor City, mid-January, 2011, at Detroit's North American International Auto Show. The night before the unveiling, we got a peek of the cars under sheets on the convention center floor. Then, later that evening, at a party attended by VW execs and Tennessee's political power players who had lured the plant to the Volunteer State, the name was revealed. It was a revival of a familiar Volkswagen brand. The New Mid-size Sedan would now be known as the Chattanooga-made Passat. "The only thing that really matters is whether consumers will buy the vehicle," said Sen. Bob Corker. "I can tell ya, I have a Volkswagen. I've never driven a finer vehicle in my life, and, my guess is, consumers are gonna grab hold of Volkswagen and the tremendous engineering, technology, and partnerships they've created.
Then-Mayor of Chattanooga Ron Littlefield was also in attendance. "It's a dream come true," he added. "And to look on that screen here in Detroit, Michigan and see the car sitting in front of that big Chattanooga sign, it just doesn't get any better than this."
"Volkswagen and its suppliers are gonna have jobs," then-Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen explained. "There are gonna be a lot of them. They're gonna be good jobs. And I'm proud of the team that put this together. There's a lot of them here, tonight. And I think the years ahead will be very bright for Tennessee and for Hamilton County."
The next morning, live on Channel 3, and via satellite to the auto making universe, accompanied by dramatic lighting, a team of percussionists, and a fog machine, the new Passat rolled to center-stage. With Hamilton County tags and a stereo system made by Fender, it was unashamedly made in the USA.
By mid-April, the first consumer Passat rolled off the Chattanooga line. A grand opening for the whole complex was held May 24th.
In November, 2011, another big boon for the former NMS; international media returned to Enterprise South as the Passat was named Motor Trend Magazine's "Car of the Year." More than 1,500 people were now churning them out. "Manufacturing a car is an extraordinarily difficult thing to do," said Editor-in-Chief Angus McKenzie. "It requires a lot of people to really deliver on so many thousands of different levels."
"These people here made it happen," added former Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey who was then serving as Deputy Governor. "You know, you can have the best design in the world, but if you don't have good quality, you don't have anything. So, my hat's off to the workers. I'm very proud of them."
In 2012, work at the plant started hitting its stride. By the end of May, workers had assembled 100,000 Passats. The next May they had sent out a quarter-million.
On July 14, 2014 Volkswagen announced that their new mid-size CrossBlue SUV will be made in Chattanooga, and expected to go into full production in late 2016.
The new vehicle will bring 2,000 new jobs to the German automakers Chattanooga facility.
A new R&D center will be added to the Volkswagen facility, employing some 200 engineers.