• Chattanooga aiding in Volkswagen’s ‘greatest change’ ever

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    A top Volkswagen Group of America official heavily involved in the car maker’s multibillion-dollar shift to electric cars says Chattanoogans are helping figure out the future needs for the market.

    “We have a very strong team here working with departments across the country to get a good understanding of the requirements — the adjustments to the customer,” said Burkhard Huhnke, the group’s senior vice president of e-mobility and product innovation.

    VW’s North American Engineering and Planning Center next to its Chattanooga assembly plant is helping to define product specifications and requirements for future electric vehicles (EVs), he said.

    Huhnke said he’s located in California these days to identify partners on the connectivity side of EV development. Work is going on in the Detroit area by VW to find suppliers, and Chattanooga is aiding in the market requirements, he said.

    Huhnke, who previously was head of product engineering at the Chattanooga plant, said the timing isn’t right to talk about the possible assembly of EVs at the factory. Today, the plant is producing the Passat sedan and Atlas SUV.

    “It’s too early to talk about the chances to produce,” he said last week at Chattanooga Engineers Week activities.

    Herbert Diess, VW brand chief worldwide, said late last year that plans are for electric cars to be built in North America from 2021. VW said it wants to be the world leader in electric cars by 2025 and it has unveiled a major shift to clean-energy vehicles in the wake of the dieselgate emissions cheating scandal.

    Earlier this month, Volkswagen Group of America announced it has created a US subsidiary to manage $2 billion in investments in zero emission vehicle infrastructure and awareness programs over a decade, as part of a court settlement over its excess diesel emissions.

    David Wade, Electric Power Board of Chattanooga chief executive, said VW is “dreaming big” when it comes to electric vehicles.

    “They’re setting their focus on doing something that’s not incremental change,” he said. “They’re seeing a whole new platform that’s changing.”

    Volkswagen already produces a pure electric e-Golf, which Huhnke said is “a game-changer. I’m a big fan.”

    30 electric models by 2025
    He said VW plans to have 30 new pure electric vehicles by 2025 with sales of 2 million to 3 million a year, which would be up to 25 percent of existing sales.

    To make the shift to electric vehicles, the German automaker is undertaking “the greatest change process in VW history,” Huhnke said. He said VW has developed a new production platform, dubbed MEB, for battery-powered vehicles.

    “We just design cars around the battery package,” Huhnke said. “It’s going to be a product with no compromises.” The e-Golf was retrofitted to a combustion engine platform.

    Part of the aim of VW is to build “a smartphone on wheels,” the VW official said, and create a new revenue stream.

    “The focus is on innovative services for consumers and businesses,” Huhnke added. “We have to get services connected to the user.”

    Volkswagen, the world’s largest automaker by sales, plans to install more than 500 charging stations nationwide, including more than 300 stations in 15 metro areas, and develop a high-speed, cross-country network consisting of more than 200 stations.

    VW also will launch a so-called “Green City” initiative in a yet-to-be-identified California city to pilot future concepts, including potentially a zero emission-based shuttle service, an EV-based car-sharing program, or a ZEV transit program.

    CHATTANOOGA TIMES/TNS

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