Governor, VW executives to visit Tenn. plant site

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen will join top Volkswagen executives and officials on Sunday when they visit the construction site of the company’s assembly plant in Chattanooga.

Jochem Heizmann, the German company’s board member in charge of worldwide production, along with Christian Wulff, governor of Lower Saxony, where VW is headquartered, are also expected in the city.

Officials have said production at the $1 billion plant near Interstate 75 in southeastern Tennessee is scheduled to start in early 2011.

Jay Baron, president of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that could be a good time because the economy may be much better by then.

VW is third in world sales behind Toyota and General Motors.

However, Kristin Dziczek, director of the center’s labor and industry group, said there are chinks in Toyota’s armor now.

Toyota reported Thursday that September’s U.S. sales were off 13 percent from a year ago. For the year so far, sales are down 28 percent.

Meanwhile, VW posted sales up 1.5 percent over the same period in 2008. For the year, VW is down 8.9 percent, the company reported.

While Toyota has temporarily put on hold its planned plant near Tupelo, VW is moving ahead with the production facility in Chattanooga.

“The difference between Toyota in Mississippi and VW in Chattanooga is Toyota has other capacity in North America,” Dziczek said. “VW needs to build it to have it.”

The plant is to have about 2,000 employees and is expected to create thousands of other related jobs. VW plans to build about 150,000 vehicles annually at the plant.

The Associated Press