:Chattanooga; :Dec 5, 2009; :Business; :21

VW official says sedan testing ‘well’

By Mike Pare mpare@timesfreepress.com

Online: Hear Frank Fischer talk about the VW plant. Read previous stories. Comment.

    Volkswagen has started test drives in Germany of prototypes of the new car it will make in Chattanooga, officials said.

    The next trial version of the vehicle will be produced at VW’s Chattanooga plant next year, they said.

    “It’s a very exciting step,” said Frank Fischer, chief executive of VW’s Chattanooga operations.

    The Chattanooga CEO said prototype assembly of the car is finished and the test drives of the car, which doesn’t have a name, started in Germany last week.

    He said early reports are that the car the company has codenamed the NMS, or new midsize sedan, is “performing very well” in tests.

    Mr. Fischer said the next trial car will be produced in Chattanooga in 2010 as the $1 billion plant moves toward churning out vehicles for sale in early 2011.

    “We can’t see any major job stoppers,” he said.

    Among the next steps is sending prototype drawings to suppliers so they can
build parts for the vehicle, which VW officials believe will help it better compete in the United States against cars such as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

    Don Jackson, president of manufacturing for VW’s Chattanooga operations, said plant construction is on time and under a tight schedule.

    Meeting the company’s construction timeline is important because of plans to build the trial vehicles in Chattanooga in 2010, he said.

    Equipment installation for the body and assembly buildings starts in January, officials said. Builders started putting in paint shop equipment last month.

    Mr. Fischer said plans are to move into the plant’s office space in March or April.

    “The project as a total is on a very good path,” Mr. Fischer said.

    Mr. Fischer said the engines for the new sedan will come from VW’s North American facilities. The German automaker has an engine production facility in Mexico.

    VW wants to initially produce 150,000 vehicles at the 2 million-square-foot plant at Enterprise South industrial park. It will employ about 2,000 people.

Contributed rendering Volkswagen provided this rendering of the new midsize sedan it will make in Chattanooga.