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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – This morning, Volkswagen announced plans to hire an additional 800 workers at its plant in Tennessee. The facility already employs 2,700 and has plenty of room for expansion.
"Every vehicle manufacturer that has chosen to transplant to the U.S. has bought a big parcel of land," said Marty Padgett, editorial director of High Gear Media. "VW's is probably twice as large as they need for their current operations. Their sister brand Audi has talked about building cars in North America. And it's not difficult to see how the future plays out."
Volkswagen's $1 billion investment in its Chattanooga plant, which opened last spring, puts the company closer to the American consumer -- a market crucial in its quest to become the world's No. 1 automaker.
In the 1960s, America fell in love with VW's iconic Beetle. But going into the 1990s, the company's small, one-size-fits-all vehicles did not always speak the language of U.S. consumers looking for legroom on long commutes.
"Historically, the VW brand has had a very strong base in the U.S.," said Jonathan Browning, CEO of Volkswagen Group of America. "More recently, I would say we lost our way. And so this growth strategy for us has been about refocusing on the U.S. marketplace, which is a very important market globally."
VW's U.S. strategy involves a more "American" approach in advertising, such as the company's Super Bowl ad for the Passat, featuring a child in a Darth Vader costume. But the adaptations go beyond image. The company has made design changes in the vehicles it builds and sells here.
"For sure, the car is a little bigger than we would build it for Europe," said Frank Fischer, CEO of Volkwagen's Chattanooga plant. "And on German autobahns, you don't need any cup holders at that speed usually. That is very different."
Last year, automotive sales in the U.S. grew 11 percent. Volkswagen sales in the U.S. increased by 26 percent. The planned hiring of hundreds of additional employees at its Chattanooga factory may be an indication "Das Auto" is acquiring an American accent.