Sen. Bob Corker, one of the principle architects of the deal that landed Volkswagen’s new plant in Chattanooga three years ago, rightly gleamed with pride Tuesday at the official dedication of VW’s shiny new, state-of-the-art facility at the Enterprise South industrial park. Building on Sen. Lamar Alexander’s comment praising the fabled automaker’s decision to produce cars in Chattanooga as the perfect marriage of an admired company and city, Corker pronounced: “Today, this marriage is consummated.”
That’s an apt analogy. It speaks not just to the heady, happy and long anticipated plant opening that now binds the company and the city in desire of a perfect match. It also speaks to the hopes, challenges, work and dedication that it takes for any good marriage to succeed and prosper. The task ahead is to prepare well, work hard, capture the wind and sail happily into a fruitful partnership — to multiply and foster further success and prosperity.
After three hectic years of preparing the site, building the billion-dollar plant and testing its first production runs, that’s a vision worth celebrating, at last. But, of course, the ultimate success of the partnership will be easier said than done.
Volkswagen comes to the marriage well prepared. It has forged a formidable presence on the global industrial stage, and it begins here with a strictly focused game plan and the resources and expertise to drive it.
Over the next seven years, VW intends to become the world leader in auto sales, leapfrogging No. 1 Toyota and No. 2 GM. It sees its new plant here — VW’s first and only plant in America since it closed, in 1988, a revamped Chrysler plant in Pennsylvania that produced Rabbits — as the key to its goal of increasing U.S. sales of VW products to 800,000 by 2018.
The new Passat to be built here is designed to compete head-on in price, quality and value with its tenacious midsize rivals — Accords, Camrys, Ford’s Focus, GM’s new lines and Hyundai’s rising brand. By all accounts, the redesigned, re-priced Passat is destined to be a worthy competitor.
If it succeeds as anticipated, VW Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn confirmed here Tuesday, the company may decide to double the Chattanooga plant’s capacity of 150,000, a move which could add another 2,000 to 2,500 plant workers — and double the work of the supplier plants that VW is attracting to the city and the larger metro area.
VW expects its newly reconfigured Jetta, the Passat’s popular stablemate, to lure more American buyers to its fold. And it has plenty of other models to intrigue more, from a cabriolet that folds and hides its hardtop on board to a well-groomed stable of spirited, gas-thrifty models, from midsize and large SUVs and multiservice vans to its upscale Audis, which now compete with BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes for top-line sales. Its best calling card may be its mileage-stretching clean-diesel engine, which boasts an mpg rating in the high 40s, and many models that can use it.
VW is clearly looking to the long term, as well, in terms of future transportation demands, environmental and resource management, and market changes. It’s not just exploring super-mileage diesel hybrids. It is also testing, for example, the third iteration of a small, light, crash-worthy, turbo-charged/hybrid 1.3-liter diesel prototype that can cruise at 70 mph and get an incredible 240-plus miles per gallon. (Yes, you read that right. And though the web blogs often get it wrong, it’s not been priced.)
And it is seeking new ways to assure that its plants, products and business plans are economically and environmentally sustainable. With such strengths, drive and vision and the related growth it has fostered, Volkswagen seems poised to make good on a game-changing partnership that holds great promise for Chattanooga and Hamilton County. We happily welcome Volkswagen’s new endeavor.
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