by Steven Chupnick
Henry Ford revolutionized car building with the assembly line. The idea of moving the cars past stationary workers was radical, but it quickly became the norm by boosting output quality, yet lowering prices. Now, working on an assembly line sounds a lot like a sweat shop. But, as our Over the Edge guy Steven Chupnick found, at North America’s newest auto assembly plant, nothing could be further from the truth.
STEVEN CHUPNICK: Day after day, year after year, cars and trucks roll off the assembly line. But at Volkswagen's Chattanooga, Tennessee assembly plant, the Passat’s coming down have a little extra social responsibility traveling along with them.
STEVEN CHUPNICK: These 180 thousand cars a year are made in the only factory in the world with the platinum LEED certification next to its name... Only after a year of being open, the plant received one of the highest honors it could get...LEED - an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design developed by the US Green Building Council. That means it’s designed to lower operating costs, reduce waste, conserve energy and water, all while providing a healthier and safer workplace...
RON DRUMELLER: Recycled glass tiles throughout the floor in the plant, there’s a white membrane on the roof... that reduces the heat out in effect. Also on the roof, we have storm water collection, which is water harvesting.
STEVEN CHUPNICK: And here’s something that makes Chattanooga unique – a 3 story robotic paint shop!
STEVEN CHUPNICK: What, you don’t wear something like this to work every day? No, just kidding. But the guys and gals who work here must wear something like this to keep the dust out of the area, out of the cars.
RON DRUMELLER: It’s the most technologically advanced paint shop in the world, using crushed dry limestone powder for the paint separation instead of the conventional wet paint separation... We save 50,000 gallons a day and we actually have dry powder that can be recycled.
STEVEN CHUPNICK: And not only is the plant good for VW workers; it's good for the city of Chattanooga.
HILARY HODGKINS: When they announced that Volkswagen chosen Chattanooga, everybody was thrilled... We have two new river parks here... Things have really blossomed in terms of-there’s new magnet schools... I think there’s been a real emphasis now. It’s almost like Chattanooga has become an international city.
STEVEN CHUPNICK: But, coming to an area without a car building heritage was a challenge for VW. Assembly workers had to be trained from the ground up. That starts at the Volkswagen Academy.
NOLAND MIKENS: For every team member, after they go through 3 weeks of training up at Volkswagen Acadamy, they come down to the ‘profy room’ which is short for professional room. We do a focused very intense training for them on their particular process.
STEVEN CHUPNICK: So what’s the academy actually like? There are 5 different pods in 5 different areas from basic parts, automation, diagnostics, to advanced training of fully building a car... And as for moving parts quickly, I thought it might be fun to check out how to maneuver their kart system... Now, that’s some fun stuff... But Volkswagen takes building quality very seriously - an extensive vehicle audit is completed on two cars each day to undercover the smallest flaws. They use the same detail checklist for all of VW’s family of brands...
And that branding…what did we tour the plant with? A Passat-designed tram...Now, that’s what I call traveling in style...
Volkswagen's Chattanooga site is a model for the future of automotive assembly…building better cars…better employees…and better communities. So the next time you see a new VW Passat coming down the road, make sure you add a little thanks to your Guten Tag...