published Saturday, January 18th, 2014

Jetta, small SUV production eyed for Chattanooga

HIGHEST SELLERS

Sales of VW's two most popular vehicles in the U.S. in 2013:

Jetta: 163,793

Passat: 109,652

Source: Volkswagen of America

  • photo
    Press browse the VW booth before Volkswagen unveiled a new hybrid Jetta and electric concept vehicle, the "Bugstger," at the COBO Center during the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, in this file photo.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Already the frontrunner to assemble a new sport utility vehicle, Chattanooga's Volkswagen plant also could see even more product such as the Jetta compact car, according to a report Friday.

"Jetta is one of their volume sellers here," said Karl Bauer, senior industry analyst for Kelley Blue Book.

Automotive magazine said VW officials are looking at producing its next Jetta in Chattanooga. The magazine website added that the city is a candidate for a possible Jetta wagon with a body cladding and a raised stance for an Audi all-road rugged look.

In addition, it said officials are eyeing production of its next generation compact Tiguan sport utility vehicle either in Chattanooga or in VW's Puebla, Mexico, factory, where the Jetta is now produced.

Bauer said the Jetta and midsize Passat sedan, which is made in Chattanooga, are the German automaker's two best-selling vehicles in the United States. Making the Jetta in Chattanooga might save the company money in terms of shipping and import fees, he said.

"Their two most popular cars [in the U.S.] would be made here," Bauer said.

A decision is expected to be made soon on the CrossBlue SUV production site. VW chief Martin Winterkorn said earlier this week at the North American International Auto Show that the midsize SUV is to be ready to sell for 2016.

Bauer said the Chattanooga plant has a lot of space for expanding production, particularly for the seven-seat SUV.

"I could see it," he said.

VW officials said at the auto show in Detroit that the automaker also needs a new compact SUV to replace the Tiguan, noting that segment is more popular among Americans than the midsize one.

Bauer said Ford has a lot of activity in SUVs with its Escape and Explorer. Nissan has two small SUVs in the Juke and the Rogue as well as the updated Pathfinder, he said.

The analyst said neither of VW's two SUVs, the Tiguan and Touareg, are new or particularly innovative.

The VW auto plant in Mexico is one of the most productive in the world, assembling the Jetta and Beetle. Earlier this week, production of the subcompact Golf began at the factory.

Mexican Golfs will be exported to the U.S. and Canada ahead of a mid-year launch. Previous generation Golfs have been shipped mostly from Germany though some were assembled in Brazil.

VW spent about $700 million readying the plant for the seventh generation Golf. Production capacity is 700 vehicles a day.

"The start of Golf 7 production will give Volkswagen a big boost in the North America region. And it underscores our commitment to Mexico as an automotive location. That is further confirmed by the $7 billion our group will be investing in North America in the period to 2018," Winterkorn said in a statement.

Since 1964, when VW began production in Mexico, the automaker has spent $8 billion at the plant.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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