Tour of the Volkswagen Chattanooga Passat Plant

A few weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to visit the Volkswagen manufacturing facility in Chattanooga, TN, where the 2012 Passat is made. This was a rare opportunity, so to make sure I made the most of the trip, I came loaded with a number of your questions, along with my own. I’ve posted answers to the most popular and unique inquiries at the bottom of this post. Before I get to that, I’d like to take you along as I look back at my tour of the 1,400-acre facility.

The Chattanooga plant can currently produce up to 150,000 vehicles per year. Many of you asked if Volkswagen has plans to expand production to an additional model at the current location; beyond what I outline below, I did find out that the Chattanooga plant location has enough unused acreage nearby for a mirror plant to be constructed in the future. So stay tuned!

Check out the embedded video below to see monstrous machines that transform 4,700 welds into a car, vehicles being started for the very first time, and a clip of me braving my way through the monsoon weather simulator that tests for paint and seal quality. In addition to the monsoon simulator, all new cars receive four-wheel alignment and are driven down a cobblestone road to check the suspension and listen for unwanted interior sounds. To further uphold top-notch quality, two Passats are taken off the line daily and disassembled. Once they’re given the green light, approximately 85 percent of the vehicles are shipped to dealers via train to reduce energy consumption.

On the topic of sustainability, Volkswagen has incorporated a plethora of features into the design of the Chattanooga facility that make it the only LEED Platinum Certified auto plant in the world. What is LEED? Simply put, LEED provides building owners and operators a way to identify and implement energy-efficient, eco-conscious solutions for design, construction and operations.

The plant has implemented a storm water management plan that protects receiving stream channels from excessive erosion, promotes infiltration, and captures and treats the storm water runoff from 90 percent of the average annual rainfall. Volkswagen also installed a highly reflective white roof membrane that minimizes heat by up to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Lastly, six-inch mineral rock wool panels insulate the plant walls to reduce building energy consumption by 35 percent.

Even though this is an efficient, eco-conscious plant, the real magic behind the high quality vehicles that roll off the line lies with the employees. Each new employee is enrolled in six to ten weeks of classroom and physical training, including weight-lifting and cardiovascular exercises, before beginning work on the line. What’s more, Volkswagen offers an onsite degree program that includes classes alongside their paid work time for employees who want to earn their BAs and MBAs.

If you could build your own Passat, what options would you select?

Inquiries from Facebook Fans:

Are factory tours available?

Yes, there are eight tours a week, Tuesday to Friday at both 9am and 1:30pm. You can email to set up a time, but keep in mind that it’s usually necessary to book several weeks in advance.

Are there any plans for factory deliveries?

Not at this time, unfortunately. Vehicles can only be picked up at dealerships.

Any other plans for other models to be built in Chattanooga?

Not at the moment, but this is being considered as a future possibility. There are currently plans to increase capacity from 150,000 to 180,000 a year with the addition of a third team.

Is the Passat TDI Premium available with a 6-speed manual transmission?


What is the average rate for completing one full standard model?

In Chattanooga, cars come off the line every minute and 40 seconds, which equals about 35 cars an hour. What’s more amazing is that many suppliers have parts shipping to the plant just two hours before they are actually put on cars.

Why build a plant in the US?

Efficiency. Eighty-five percent of suppliers for the Passat are in North America, which keep shipping costs to a minimum. Additionally, building in the US allows Volkswagen to understand the customer better, react quicker to market needs and bypass fluctuation in currency exchange rates.

I would love more info on Volkswagen’s state of the art paint center.

The state-of-the-art paint shop has new technologies that will make it the most technologically advanced in the world. My favorite of those, which you can see in the embedded video, is the “E-Shuttle.” This new conveyor technology allows carriers to rotate the car bodies in a phosphate bath and electro deposition bath versus dipping them. These carriers can be programmed like robots and can maneuver vehicles 360 degrees. They can also enter the bath at a steeper decline. Because of this, it allows the dip tanks to be smaller, saving chemicals, water, and energy. This process provides the vehicle corrosion resistance and acts as a foundation for subsequent paint coatings.

Is the plant still hiring?

Yes. In March, VW announced it was hiring 800 more employees for a third team by the end of 2012. This will bring employee total to approximately 3,500. VW is looking nationwide for candidates and noted that there is currently a high demand for service/maintenance technicians for the robots.


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